Series note: This is the first in a three-part series detailing some of Penn State's most unique art classes.
It would be difficult to find a class at Penn State with more invigorating energy and life than DANCE 281: Introduction to African Dance and Culture.
When class began, Kikora Franklin, professor of theatre and dance in Penn State's School of Theatre, led her students in what at first seemed to be a relaxing and quiet warm-up exercise. But, this silence was shattered a short moment later when the sound of the African drums began to play. The music reverberated throughout the room as each student moved with powerful enthusiasm.
After the warm-up, the class formed a circle and learned a fast and rigorous dance full of clapping, running and stomping that is both fierce and graceful. The lesson was designed to increase the endurance of the students, as well as teach them to closely listen to the drums and anticipate the beats, Franklin told the class.
The live music, played by a small group of current and former students, is an essential aspect of African dance, Head Accompanist Jeff Martin said.
"The drums speak to the dancers, who can feel the music raise their energy and electrify their movements," Martin said, adding that the art of African dance must "build a communal relationship between the drummers and the dancers."
Each student, no matter their previous dance experience, gave it their all and moved together with strong, controlled movements and, most notably, a passion for dance.
"Keep your knees bent to the earth!" Franklin shouted as the class performed a welcome dance from Mali called Lamba.
"Things that have life must bend," she added, paraphrasing a proverb from African dance philosophy.
Franklin, who has taught the class since 2003, possesses a unique teaching style that her students love, Sally Hammer said.
"She pushes you to dance in ways you never knew your body could move and expects nothing but your best," Hammer (senior-nutrition) said. "You can tell she wants to be there as much as you do, which is extremely motivating."
Hammer, who has already taken DANCE 281 four times, is not the only student who comes back every semester. Saunsuray Govere has taken the class five times.
"I've made sure to take one of Kikora's classes every semester," Govere (senior-finance) said. "It's always the best part of my day."
Jazmin Tyson, a past DANCE 281 student, isn't even enrolled in the class this semester, but her schedule was free, and she decided to stop in for a tough workout.
"I felt like I was going to pass out," Tyson (senior-actuarial science) said as she tried to catch her breath after the intense hour-long class, adding that it was much more difficult than she remembered.
As they were dismissed, the class laughed with relief and applauded Franklin, the musicians and each other.
"No matter what kind of day you are having, you leave class feeling refreshed and in a great mood," Hammer said.