Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola, Associate Professor of Africana dance history and performance, is the inaugural Associate Dean of Research and Creative Endeavors in the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University. Abiola's research interests include the study of Africana (African & African Diaspora) dance history, its ability to immerse the individual in the collective memory of peoples of African descent globally, and its capacity to enable one to approach and understand current cultural developments from the perspective of experience. Abiola's research seeks to address deficiencies in knowledge of Africana culture and to bring into the conversation elements of human experience that are frequently not discussed in academia. Her research seeks to highlight the significance of these elements for the understanding of world culture and history, and the interdisciplinary application of that understanding to diverse fields. Through digital humanities platforms, 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.
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, 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. Abiola presented her research in and directed other short-form documentaries as well including the short-form documentary, Grave Revelations, which 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. Abiola founded 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.
Abiola received numerous grants, awards and fellowships from national and international institutions including: the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), Department of Education, US Department of State, The Mary Ellen Multi-Country Research Award, Howard University’s Deans Cabinet Award, the Outstanding Student Advisement Award, Howard University Research Grants, the Outstanding Assistant Professor Award (Howard University), 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). Abiola's 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, Abiola established their first archival system.
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, DC, 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. 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, Abiola choreographed and performed. She specialized in African dance ballets. 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. Abiola set the choreography for numerous musicals including: Once on this Island; The Outliers; Rainbow Park; The Outliers II and The Wiz. In addition, Abiola 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, 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. 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.
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 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). She was 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. 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. 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.