© 2019 by The Organization of Umfundalai Teachers

Photos by Aaron Davis

For more information visit www.umfundalai.net 

  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle
  • YouTube - Black Circle

A brief history

For 45 years (and counting), Umfundalai has been impacting audiences and dance communities as a contemporary artistic expression.  Emanating out of the Black Arts Movement, Kariamu Welsh began codifying its movement system in 1970 in Buffalo, New York as a means to empower her nationalist choreography.  Since that time, Welsh’s career as teacher, choreographer and performer chronicles Umfundalai’s evolution thereby offering six distinct phases of development.

  • The Buffalo Period (1968 to 1972) – Kariamu Welsh identifies her teaching as having a distinct style. Movement vocabularies featured in instruction were selected primarily by the dancers’ ability to perform them.  The Black Dance Workshop in Bufflalo, NY (which eventually became Kariamu & Company) was the premier dance company that showcased Welsh’s style and the beginning of Umfundalai.

  • Developmental Period (1973 to 1975) – Welsh’s involvement in other dance classes influenced how she taught her style.  As a result, Welsh began to established a consistent way of teaching Umfundalai among her dancers from the Black Dance Workshop.

  • Phase Three (1976 to 1979) – Dunham dancer and teacher, Pearl Reynolds, mentors Kariamu Welsh becoming what Welsh describes as her “second set of eyes” as she developed artistic work for the Black Dance Workshop  “Groundedness” becomes a prioritized aesthetic value Umfundalai dancing.  Welsh purposely begins to use African lexicons to name Umfundalai’s vocabulary and rituals. 

  • Africa Phase (1979 to 1983) – Kariamu Welsh lives in Southern Africa for two years becoming the first artistic director of the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe.  The lapa becomes standard dress for dance classes and live musical accompaniment becomes the preferred standard for Umfundalai instruction.

  • Philadelphia Phase (1983 to 2014) – Kariamu Welsh moved to Philadelphia.  Kariamu & Company: Traditions becomes the leading demonstration professional Umfundalai performance and the body of dancers for Welsh’s choreography.   

o Two other Umfundalai-based companies emerge, Persona Zenobia and the Seventh Principle Performance Company

o Graduate and Undergraduate college students can study Umfundalai at college levels.

o Three doctoral candidates write and defend their dissertations about Umfundalai as they become scholars and educators in the dance field.

  • The Moving On Period (2014 to present) – The Organization of Umfundalai Teachers becomes a functioning organization, designing training experiences for budding African Dance teachers and intensive master class series for dance communities throughout the United States. The advancement of Umfundalai is decentralized from Welsh’s lived experiences to the experiences of the artists and dancers continuing her legacy.


For a more comprehensive history of the Umfundalai technique, buy the forthcoming Umfundalai book. 



Information compiled by 

C. Kemal Nance, PhD