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For Ojuade, dance is life, life is dance

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Deputy Editor
14 November 2021   |   4:21 am
Thursday, November 9, 2021 will remain indelible in the mind of Jeleel Olasunkanmi Ojuade, a Professor of Dance Studies at the Performing Arts Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin, Kwara State...

Professor Jeleel Olasunkanmi Ojuade of the Department of Performing Arts, University of Ilorin (left) presenting a copy of his inaugural lecture, titled, Dance is Life; Life is Dance: The Cyclical Nature of Man on Earth, to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Sulayman Age AbdulKareem, after delivering the lecture on Thursday at the main auditorium of the institution.

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Thursday, November 9, 2021 will remain indelible in the mind of Jeleel Olasunkanmi Ojuade, a Professor of Dance Studies at the Performing Arts Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, as he, on that day, became the first person to deliver his inaugural lecture on dance. Titled, Dance is Life, Life is Dance: A Cyclical Nature of Man on Earth, it was the school’s 208th inaugural lecture.

As a child dancer, Ojuade was part of the troupe that participated in the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture held in Nigeria in 1977.

The promise he showed back then has come to be fulfilled, as the child prodigy has become a prominent ‘face of dance’ practice and intellection.

After delivering the inaugural lecture, on Thursday, he was installed as the Aare Alasa of Ifetedo, in Osun State, yesterday, at a ceremony that was performed by the Olubosin of Ifetedo, Oba Akinola Oyetade Akinrera (Latiri 1).

The Aare Alasa is the President General in Charge of Culture, Arts, Tourism and Festivals in the Kingdom. He oversees and channels them for the development of the kingdom.

Speaking on his involvement in dance, he said it was ‘accidental and providential’. His words: “My case is that of an observer turned participant. I had my debut as a barely four-and-a-half-year old toddler. It was at an event where my late father’s performing troupe was invited. My curiosity to see or understand that ‘language of the drum’ at that dancing arena led me to the real ‘dance theatre’ from the sidelines where I was placed to sit quietly and watch. Instinctively, the little boy innocently strolled in, jumping up and down to the rhythm of the ‘Dundun’ drums as professionally played by the duo of Baba Sowumi and Sobade Adedapo from Ifetedo (both of blessed memories). Alas, this act of the little boy was received with mixed feelings: shock, surprise, excitement, reservations, acceptance and even condemnation.”

He said, “This is not unexpected because as at that time in history, dance was seen as ‘ise alagbe’ – craft of and for beggars. Now, for a four-and-a-half-year old to ‘throw his hat in the dance ring (when he should be preparing to go to school) was unheard of and perceived as a misnomer and patently abnormal. However, that occasion was my launch pad into a career that brought you all here today.”

Noting that the theme of the inaugural lecture, Dance Is Life, Life Is Dance: A Cyclical Nature Of Man On Earth, could be better told or showcased through ‘movements’ because dance is voiceless, and operates functionally as “non verbal but practical communication art”, but academic tradition permits no such. I’m compelled to present to colleagues, the campus community and the general public my works – past, present and future direction in teaching, learning and research within the dance sub-set of performing arts. And this I am excited to do.”

Ojuade said his father, Alhaji Fatai Oladosu Ojuade, a teacher at Okeigbo / Ifetedo Grammar School, taught Yoruba, History, Literature and was involved in cultural activities and even formed a cultural group for the school aside his own dance troupe.

He taught with the likes of Baba Enoch Adeboye (the General Overseer of Redeem Christian Church of God), Baba Colonel Rufus Ogundele, Baba Oludapo, Mr. Akinfesola and others.

“I followed him to virtually all the engagements ranging from house warming, chieftaincy conferment, demonstrative lectures, workshops, festivals, competitions and several other events. Also, I took active parts in dance activities while in the primary school alongside my sisters (Mrs Bashirat Folashade Muktar – Itai, Mrs Fausat Abiodun Ojudun) and my elder brother, Wajeed Ayodeji Ojuade – ours was a complete family troupe. It afforded us the platform to take part in series of dance competitions at the local levels where we won laurels,” he said.

“Our troupe became so popular within the communities of Okeigbo, Ifetedo, Ile – Ife Osogbo, Ibadan, Akure, Ijeshaland and Ekiti. While our dad played host to itinerant stage drama performers like Ishola Ogunsola (I-show pepper), Oyin Adejobi, Duro Ladipo, Funmilayo Ranco, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala) and host of others, our family troupe partook in some of the dance activities of that at time.”

It was in 1982 while enjoying his holiday in Lagos, that his father came with the news that they were going to represent Nigeria at the XII Commonwealth Games and Warana Festival in Brisbane, Australia. “We were at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos for about three weeks rehearsing the dance theatre titled, “The Marriage of Princess Sidibe‟, scenario written and directed by Edith Uche Enem and the music was directed by Professor Akin Euba. I was the youngest in the troupe and that gave me the privilege of having close contact with the Queen of England and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh at the opening ceremony in Brisbane.”

In 1983, another invitation came for a performance tour of the Federal Republic of South Korea (a cultural exchange visit), where they toured and performed in the cities of Gwangju, Pusan and Seoul.

“I got so entangled in these dance activities that it became worrisome for my Mum because of my education. She wanted me to pitch tent with career in the legal profession rather than dancing while my father held on tenaciously that I followed the part of theatre.”

According to him, “the academic circle created an inroad for a better exposure to dance scholarship within the confine of teaching, research and community services. Aside teaching of dance courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, engagement in research activities assisted the students and would – be dancers as well.”

To him, “prior exposure to dance and the experiences of research informed my middle way approach of bridging the gap between ‘town’ and ‘gown’.”

He continued, “Music and dance are like Siamese twins, inseparable and symbiotically serving each other. Can there be music without dance? Without music and dance, the people cannot properly create poetry, record history, educate or train children, celebrate at festivals, praise or abuse, entertain, instruct, disagree, marry, or bury their dead. Music and dance in performance particularly among the Yoruba constitute a primary site for the production of knowledge. Dance is regarded as an important aspect of any culture. It is a very strong device for identifying the culture of a people.”

He disclosed, “if we have an expanded definition of the dance concept and definition is to be a rhythmic gyration of parts of the body to certain stimulations. Then, even copulation, which precedes conception, is a dance activity. Then, the entire life cycle of a man is full of dance in one form or the other. From copulation to conception; birth to celebration of birth anniversaries and /other life achievements; even unto death, man dances all through the cycles and circles. Dance, therefore, is Life and Life is Dance. We live to dance, we dance to live.”

The professor of dance studies believes that whomever wishes to live long should indulge in regular dancing. He also tasked government at all levels to beam their searchlights on establishing dance hub at different strata of society in order to serve as huge source of revenue generation to meet their financial obligations.

He stressed the need, ”to take advantage of the health benefits accrued to dancing to stay healthy through regular dance activities which will; improve the condition of human heart and lungs; increase aerobic fitness; improve music tone and strength; gives one better coordination, agility and flexibility and give longer life.”

On establishing dancing hub by governments to serve as revenue generation, he said, “by the time the government at all levels put this in place (dance hub), a lot of revenue will accrue from this outing and this will complement the government efforts to meet the needs of the people in the area of provision of social services to the people”.

Outside serving as generating revenues for the government, Ojuade said, it will also serve as tourists and training centres for the people.

The don urged government at various levels to ensure the documentation of cultural dances through the establishment of documentation centres.

Ojuade, however, warned against debasing the country’s culture, saying, “It has been reduced to campaign activities or pleasurable act. ‘our dances represent our life’ and deserves better treatment.”

He also stressed the need for dance experts and practitioners to be accorded diplomatic treatment in order to reduce stress in procuring travelling documents

Ojuade also said, ” There is the need for research funding in the areas of dance studies and practice. Efforts should be made to further organise international festivals, performances, exhibition where our dances can be showcased.

Ojuade further urged the federal government to reconsider the separation of the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism from being merged with another entity.

He pointed out that, it would be plausible to create a tripod stand involving traditional institutions and the academia and such partnership would enhance the preservation of our culture including the dance

He also urged the Federal Ministry of Education and other organ agencies to reconsider the teaching and study of history, culture, museum and monuments as part of the curriculum.

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