Choreographers Note with Shani Diouf

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Dance Unleashed 2022, the Department of Theatre & Dance’s annual spring faculty concert, consistently offersshani diouf crowd favorites such as tap, jazz, contemporary, modern and often aerial silks. This year we are thrilled to bring something new to the stage and by one of our own. Shani Diouf, an LUTD alumna and Fulbright Fellow, has been working with our students to bring the traditions of West African dance and drumming to life. We were able to speak with Shani about the work, the traditions and her experiences post-graduation.

Shani, can you give a little background information regarding the history of West African dance and drumming and what the audience can expect from your work in the concert?  

 A question about the history of West African dance and drumming is an extremely broad question and would encompass many countries, several tribes/ethnic groups, and subsequently many different dances that fall in that category. What they share are commonalities that can be referred to as African Derived Movement Characteristics (Barbara Glass) or African Aesthetics. These include elements such as movement that has an orientation to the earth, movement that emphasizes the importance of community, singing that includes call and response, percussive drumming, elements of competition, etc. All of which you will see in Bougarabu the dance that the students will be performing in the concert. 

Speaking to West African Dance's traditional and specialized technique, what were the key elements in transcribing this work to the Lamar University students and staying as true as possible to the tradition(s)? 

While working with the students, it was very important for them to understand that all the characteristics of African Derived Movement that I previously mentioned are the technique that they should use when executing this style of movement. Additionally, it was important to lecture them on the significance of the dance so that they had a clear understanding of why the dance was/is typically performed. Having a good historical and cultural understanding of the roots of the dance was very helpful to the dancers in learning the movement.

As an alumna of the LU dance program, can you speak briefly on your journey from then to now and how it feels to return? 

To say that it is an honor to work with the students at Lamar after having graduated from the program is an understatement. The students are so hungry for knowledge, and I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing everything I can with them in the short time that I have had with them. After Lamar, I went to Florida State University where I completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in Performance and Choreography and then traveled to Ghana West Africa as a Fulbright Scholar where I studied, taught, choreographed and performed for a year. I have since traveled to Ghana several times as well as Morocco and Senegal studying dance. Most recently I completed a Master of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Rice University and I am part of the newest cohort of Ph.D students in dance at Texas Woman’s University. Lamar University was a wonderful and ripe environment for me to explore as a dancer, and I will always cherish the time that I had as a student in the program.

Shani, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. The last word is yours. Is there anything you would like to say to interested parties, the cast and crew, the Lamar community, etc...? 

Again, I am very grateful to Lamar for the opportunity to pour into these students. It was so refreshing to work with them. I appreciated their respect and commitment to the art form, and I know that they will each go on to do great things.

Dance Unleashed runs April 22 at 7:30 pm and April 23 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm. All performances will take place in the University Theatre. Tickets range from $7 - $15 and can be purchased online at or at the door. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram @lamarutheatredance for more information on Dance Unleashed and additional performances. We hope you will consider joining us for this unique performance experience.