Dance brings student to Ghana

By Sarah Wojcik

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To the average American, the single-syllable word “dance” doesn’t go much further an imagined scene of stretching ballerinas or a group of beat-driven clubbers, but Catherine MacMaster and her colleagues know differently.

“(Dance) is, in my opinion, a very honest way to express something,” MacMaster said. “Virtually anybody can dance — if your heart is beating and you are breathing, you can make some kind of physical expression, even if it is only facially, and that is dancing — various forms and levels of body language … Dancing intrigues me because it says so much without saying anything.”

MacMaster’s love for dance began at the age of three and has since evolved throughout the years.

“What has particularly stood out is Catherine’s creativity when creating dances,” Gregory Patterson, an Oakland University dance professor, said. “The dance faculty has been very impressed by Catherine’s unique voice in choreography, her use of inventive, original movement, her musical choices and the overall quality of her work.”

As an Honors College dance major researching for her senior thesis, MacMaster had the extraordinary opportunity to live and dance among the natives of Ghana, a country located in West Africa, for three weeks.

She was funded by the Honors College, Maggie Allesee (Dance Department Scholarship), and the Alumni Association through their study abroad fund.

MacMaster stayed at a modest hotel in the city of Ho, located in the Volta Region of Ghana for the majority of her trip, but also lived with a host family for four days.

“Ghanaians are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met,” she said. “We grew very close with a lot of locals, especially people who worked at our hotel and people who came to teach us from nearby villages and the National Dance Company of Ghana.”

MacMaster set out to Ghana with questions to be answered as well as an open mind of the cultural differences between Americans and Ghanaians.

“The goal of my research is really to investigate dance as a form of communication and as an integral part of a culture,” she said. “It was an interesting way to get through language barriers.”

MacMaster discovered much during her stay in Ghana.

Ghanaians live in a much more laidback fashion, MacMaster said, and to her, everyone is a dancer.

“If they’re tired, they take a nap. It’s much more organic there,” she said.

MacMaster was able to find a distinct difference between American dance and the Ghanaians form of dancing:

“Americans are more reserved in dancing where Ghanaians are very open. Ghanaians are willing to share their culture,” she said.

MacMaster also noted importantly that, in Ghana, if you aren’t willing to add expression, people aren’t willing to watch.

Historical dancing among the Ghanaians is a way to relay the events of their culture, she said. Shrines were dedicated to the art of dance, where Ghanaians of all ages dance for hours as a form of cleansing.

One thing MacMaster picked up in Ghana is something everyone can relate to: “I learned the simpler your life is, the more rich you are.”