Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola was born and raised in New York City. She currently serves as Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts at Howard University. She is an Associate Professor and received her Ph.D. in African History from Howard University, with a focus on Mandinka Dance history. Her research interests include the history of Mandinka dance systems; the history of African Diaspora dance; screendance; and digital humanities. Professor Abiola's scholarship is driven by a commitment to underscore, document, and thereby preserve under-researched narratives in the history of Africana -- African and African Diaspora -- dance and performance. Through digital humanities platforms, Dr. Abiola's research also focuses on the historical representations of Africana performative phenomena, particularly the performance of ritual, and other non-theatrical depictions of performance in Africana life.
Dr. Abiola's latest publication is titled, Fire Under My Feet: History, Race & Agency in African Diaspora Dance (Routledge, 2021). She has also written the book, History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance (Routledge, 2018), and published a short-form documentary as a visual companion to it titled, History Dances: African Dance Systems as Methodologies. In addition to her monographs, Dr. Abiola has also written an introductory textbook for undergraduate students in her Dance History courses, Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa (Intelligentsia Press, 2019). Her current book project, Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs, is a work in progress. Dr. Abiola presented her research in and directed other short-form documentaries as well. For example, Dr. Abiola's documentary, Grave Revelations, exposes viewers to the myriad instances of Africanisms in the performance of 19th century African American funerary rituals in a recently discovered burial ground in Washington, DC. She also founded and published the peer-reviewed digital journal, Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre, to provide a venue for scholarship on African, and African Diaspora dance, theatre, and film. Evoke has a global readership and attracted nearly one thousand readers within the first year of publication.
Dr. Abiola received numerous grants, awards and fellowships including: the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH, received fellowships and grants), Council of American Overseas Research Centers Fellowship (CAORC), Department of Education grant, US Department of State grant, The Mary Ellen Multi-Country Research Grant, (awarded for top-ranked proposal) Howard University’s Outstanding Assistant Professor Award, an Outstanding Student Advisement Award (Howard University), Howard University Research Grant, and the George H. Bennett Fellowship, among others. Grants from NEH included a $99,948 grant to establish an Africana Theatre and Dance Collection in Howard University's historic Founder's Library (For more information click the "NEH" tab in the top banner of this page). Her artistic awards include: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) Master Folk Artist Award, SeVAA Excellence in the Arts Award, VMEA Outstanding Contribution to Music Award, among others. During her summer tenure as Archivist for the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Dr. Abiola established their first archival system.
Dr. Abiola was invited to Recife, Brazil, by the U.S. State Department to mount her African dance ballet, RITES, and to be a speaker in the International Cultural Summit in Brazil, hosted by a joint venture of the U.S. Consulate in Brazil and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, to facilitate the launch of the Smithsonian's first International Engagement Program.
She was featured on ABC's Good Morning Washington, in the Afro-American Newspaper, and on the American Historical Association's (AHA) Perspectives on History as a Spotlight Scholar (AHA is the oldest and most prestigious academic historical association).
Dr. Abiola founded and served as Director of the international conference, The Nankama African Dance Conference, where participants and presenters from Africa, the African Diaspora, the US, and representatives from the US State Department attended.
Dr. Ofosuwa M. Abiola founded the African dance company Suwabi African Ballet. She served as the company's Artistic Director for 15 years.
Prior to her academic career, Dr. Abiola choreographed and performed. She specialized in African dance ballets. Dr. Abiola founded the traditional African dance company, Suwabi African Ballet, in Newport News, VA. She served as Artistic Director for 15 years until she relocated to Washington, DC to peruse her Ph.D. in History from Howard University. During her tenure as Artistic Director, in addition to hundreds of performances, Dr. Abiola researched, wrote, directed, choreographed, and produced historical African dance ballets including: The Dismal Swamp; Wasalunke and the Three Virtues; The Voices of Shu; Waters of Despair, Waters of Hope; Africa: A Song of Me; and Imhotep. She also set the choreography for numerous musicals including: Once on this Island; The Outliers; Rainbow Park; The Outliers II and The Wiz. In addition, Dr. Abiola has produced, choreographed, and directed, countless African dance Kwanzaa concerts. Her artistic awards include: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) Master Folk Artist Award, SeVAA Excellence in the Arts Award, VMEA Outstanding Contribution to Music Award, among others.
For 20 years before she founded of her dance company, Dr. Abiola performed nationally and internationally. Although she was also trained in classical ballet, modern, jazz, and tap dance styles, she specialized in traditional African dance. Professor Abiola's performance venues include, the S.S. Rotterdam Cruise Ship, where she toured and performed in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and Bermuda. She toured and performed with the Gambian dance troupe, Corichow Dance Company, at countless venues in Kololi, Serrekunda, and Banjul, in the Gambia, West Africa. In the United States, her performance and presentation venues include, the National Folk Arts Festival, Arena Stage, America's 400th Anniversary (Jamestown, VA), the Spirit of Norfolk Cruise Ship, the Hampton Coliseum, on and off Broadway venues, and numerous other national and local venues.
Dr. Abiola served as Artist-in-Residence at the historic Attucks Theatre, America's second oldest historically Black Theatre, and at the Governor’s School for the Arts, the premier arts program for gifted students in Virginia. She has worked as Director at an abundance of dance and theater companies including the Attucks Theatre’s CampRize!, Stage Norfolk, and the Theatre of African Cultural Arts (NY). Dr. Abiola has been commissioned to set African dance ballets for the historic Chrysler Museum, the Mariner’s Museum, The Peninsula Fine Arts Museum, and on dance and theater companies, schools and universities throughout the U.S. and in Africa. Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola received a number of grants from the Hampton Arts Council, the Newport News Arts Council, The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, The Peninsula Fine Arts Center, The Links, and Friends of the Arts, Inc, among others. Dr. Abiola is featured as a Master Teacher in the book, In Good Keeping: Virginia’s Folklife Apprenticeships, and she was consistently featured on radio and TV broadcast stations including PBS, NBC, CBS, and WHRO.