UNC Charlotte’s dance and music students journeyed to Historic Rosedale, a former plantation in Charlotte, to showcase the African American Ring Shout—a tradition deeply rooted in Africa and crafted by enslaved individuals in the Carolinas and Georgia. This compelling event, held on November 3, marked the culmination of the students’ exploration in the class “Ring Shout Dance Traditions” led by Associate Professor of Dance Tamara Williams and in collaboration with Dr. Sequina DuBose, Assistant Professor of Classical and Contemporary Voice.
The timeless Ring Shout, the oldest African American performance tradition still observed today, serves as an expression of religious fervor, cultural unity, and social resistance. Its legacy encompasses a rich repertoire of Black American music and dance. In the lead-up to the November 3 performance, students from the music and dance departments delved into the historical and contemporary aspects of Ring Shout, immersing themselves in symbolic movements, rhythms, spirituals, and freedom songs. The project, funded by the College of Arts + Architecture through a New South | Global South Project Grant, not only focused on the artistic aspects but also provided a collaborative educational experience exploring the historical, social, and political context of the “New South” ideology.
Tamara Williams initiated the course “Reconstructing Ring Shout Traditions” in 2017 to teach students the movement vocabulary of Ring Shout and its influence on American social and popular dances. In previous years, students had ventured to South Carolina to study Ring Shout, Gullah culture, and history, performing on former plantations. This year, the primary collaboration took place with Historic Rosedale, paying homage to the enslaved individuals who once lived and worked on the land.
Historic Rosedale, constructed in 1815, was a home for both enslaved and free African Americans. As part of Rosedale’s African American Legacy Project, the November 3 event honored the names of the enslaved individuals with a ceremonial water libation. The students, having earlier toured Rosedale in the fall semester, gained insight into the lives of those who had lived there, adding depth to their understanding of the significance of the Ring Shout tradition.
Ashlyn Clark, a junior voice major, expressed initial hesitation but ultimately embraced the opportunity to participate in the Ring Shout performance. As a biracial individual, Clark saw this as a chance to immerse herself in the richness of Black culture. Despite challenges in learning the intricate Ring Shout dance, she expressed gratitude to Dr. DuBose and Professor Williams for the enriching experience and the opportunity to connect with incredible artists.
Charity Williams, a senior dance major, highlighted the fast-paced movement of Ring Shout, describing the performance as a source of peace and rootedness, particularly when dancing on grounds with historical significance.
The nine student performers plan to extend their exploration to Durham, North Carolina, with a visit to Historic Stagville on December 1, aiming to perform there in the future. Tamara Williams’s research revolves around the systematic study of spiritual dances of the African Diaspora. In her efforts to preserve the original movements of the Ring Shout tradition, Williams reconstructs the earliest recorded dances, creating a formulated dance technique rooted in the Yoruba, Angola, and Akan cultures of West Africa.
The final public performance of this semester’s Ring Shout program is scheduled for December 13 in Atkins Library as part of an Atkins Out Loud event. Clark expressed her aspiration to honor ancestors through her performance and hoped they would be proud of the dedication and passion invested in this beautiful art form.