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Ghana Dance Ensemble in _Lamentation for Freedom Fighters_ by Mawere-Opoku. Photo by Josep

African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations

ISBN 9780956967022   

Published by Mot Juste. in the UK in 2012

128 pages with photographs and illustrations, including a four-page colour section

Size 270 x 210mm, soft cover

£4.95 + postage


Francis Nii-Yartey


"This book draws you into Nii's world of dance…"[Nii-Yartey’s] infectious spirit not only draws you into his world of dance but, as can be seen from this book, he is able to share his vision for creating exciting, contemporary and accessible African dance theatre for audiences throughout the world. This book is a welcomed addition to an understanding of contemporary dance practice that is taking place across the African continent.”

Dr Bob Ramdhanie – Festival Director Rupununi Music& Arts Festival Guyana


“[Noyam] is a remarkable example of what can be achieved with ability, determination and vision, and a notable contribution to the cultivation of the arts of peace.”

James Gibbs – editor African Theatre Festivals


“For me Nii-Yartey was the initiator of contemporary African dance in Ghana. Working with him and the National Dance Company was a great joy.”

Germaine Acogny, dancer, choreographer and founder of l‘Ecole des Sables, Senegal


“Professor Nii-Yartey is one of the few African choreographers and dance scholars capable of offering this insider’s record of dance in Ghana from post-independence to the present. His unique combination of local and global experiences in the field has allowed him to write with both passion and authority about the remarkable evolution of Ghanaian dance in relation to both traditional and contemporary developments.


"Nii-Yartey, schooled in village traditions from a very young age, later had the advantage at the University of Ghana of being mentored by Professors J H Kwabena Nketia (one of Africa’s foremost ethnomusicologists) and A Mawere Opoku (the originator of Ghanaian dance theatre). These two extraordinary men formed the original Ghana Dance Ensemble at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah. Always holding his knowledge of traditional practices close and passing them on with respect, Professor Nii-Yartey also had the choreographic skill to open himself and Ghana’s finest dancers to works that incorporated many contemporary styles. He created dance theatre works that fused past African movement vocabularies with new forms he created in response to current issues.


“A generous and visionary choreographer, performer and teacher, Nii-Yartey’s book will fuel the next generation in his own country, on the continent and around the globe."

Sharon Friedler, Professor and Director of Dance, Swarthmore College, USA


"[African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations], told from a personal point of view, offers information that is priceless for the dance researcher. He starts with an overview of dance in different contexts in Ghana. He looks at the importance and features of dance in traditional contexts such as ceremonies and ritual, and mentions popular dance in urban events like the Miss Ghana competition. David Amoo’s illustrations are fetching and informative. The bulk of the book however is about theatrical dance, his domain. In discussing the development of theatrical dance at the University of Ghana, Nii-Yartey is careful to explain the policies and pan-Africanist philosophies behind this initiative."

Funmi Adewole, reviewing the book in Hotfoot – One Dance



1 The People of Ghana 

2 Traditional Dance: an Introduction

3 Choreographic and Aesthetic Principles

4 The New Paradigm

5 Creativity and Technique

6 Challenge for the Creative Artiste

7 Safeguarding Ghana’s Cultural Future

8 Selected Productions


A Tribute to Nii-Yartey by his Children

Bibliography & Index

About the book

This book tells the fascinating story of the development of dance – both traditional and contemporary – since Ghana’s independence. It charts the people and events that influenced the new forms of dance and their impact on art, culture and national identity. These new forms of dances combine centuries-old tradition with a yearning for original expression and innovation. Nii-Yartey is uniquely equipped to tell the story, having been directly involved in the developments he describes through his directorship of the Department of Dance at the University of Ghana and his involvement in establishing the Ghana Dance Ensemble and the Noyam African Dance Institute.


Dance groups such as National Dance Company of Ghana and the Noyam African Dance Institute gave shape to Nkrumah’s vision and continue to spread Ghana’s traditional and contemporary dance traditions.


The book takes the reader through the history of dance in Ghana and West Africa: from the traditional dances at special occasions to contemporary performances in Ghana and elsewhere.


African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations includes a chapter with detailed choreographic instructions to 18 dance pieces, most of which were written, choreographed and directed by Nii-Yartey. They form an invaluable legacy to his career. This book is not only aimed at students of African dance, but also anyone who want to discover the rich dance traditions of Ghana.

About the author


Francis Nii-Yartey has been in the forefront of the development of dance-theatre and contemporary african dance in Ghana as an academic and teacher in his role as an Associate Professor and Head of Department of Dance Studies at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, Legon.


He was also the Artistic Director of the Ghana Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana from 1976 to 1993 and the National Dance Company of Ghana at the National Theatre from 1993 to 2006.


Teaching career
In 2006 Nii-Yartey was appointed Distinguished Visiting Cornell Professor at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA. He also taught at Ashesi University in Ghana and was a Visiting Professor at Keene State College, USA.


Nii-Yartey travelled extensively, conducting workshops, lecturing and choreographing. He was President of the Ghana Chapter of the International Dance Council (UNESCO). In 1998, Nii-Yartey began his own dance institution to explore his choreographic vision: Noyam African Dance Institute, the first of its kind in the country. In his written work, scholarship and choreographic works, Nii-Yartey worked to investigate ways in which dance can both reflect and shape social change.


His many awards included the Grand Medal (Civil Division) by the Head of State of Ghana for his contribution to choreography and dance development generally in Ghana.

"Even though most traditional African dancers are abstract...there's always some kind of story..." (Kwabberna Nketia). Photo Karla Hoffman

'H' Patten remembers Nii-Yartey


Francis Nii-Yartey, founder of the National Dance Company and Noyam Contemporary African Dance Institute devoted many decades to developing and distilling a vast array of traditional African dance and music vocabularies, storytelling techniques, and symbolisms into ground-breaking contemporary African dance-theatre spectacles.


Nii’s choreographic works have thrilled numerous audiences, conveying dynamic and compelling contemporary stories outlining the plight, pride, endurance, humour, ingenuity, strength and the underlying spiritual attributes of African peoples through the medium of dance.


Nii now cements his artistic legacy in African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations his first major literary undertaking. Through his Ghanaian lens, Nii reveals the major elements that form what he termed ‘choreographic pillars’, which constitute the foundational guiding principles in the creation of traditional and contemporary African dance vocabulary. Nii’s ‘pillars’ also establish the key creative and aesthetic themes, the encoded and embodied signs and symbols that enable the reading of meaning within African dance practices, both traditional and contemporary.


This important book provides unique insight into the challenges African choreographers endure and must overcome as part of the creative process, from a practitioner perspective. Nii highlights the functions, the rhythmic understanding and interpretation of not only the dance steps and drum patterns, but the singing, vocal utterances and the symbolic meanings communicated between the dancer/s and musician/s, the performer/s and the audiences within the gestures, costumes, and aesthetic nuances available to master dance creators and choreographers.


Having worked with Nii as my mentor, father, brother and close friend, this book illuminates many of the boundaries Nii was forced to both push past and through, against some harsh criticisms in the early years, whilst developing and refining his choreographic practice. As a true visionary, Nii endured, and developed many cutting-edge contemporary dance-theatre pieces, gaining an incredible reputation as one of Africa’s foremost choreographers. Through the countless number of artists trained, moulded and having crafted their own artistic skills through Nii’s hands, his work has impacted the development of African dance practice worldwide. Having collaborated with many major choreographers across Africa, the diaspora and the Western world, Nii’s official recognition as a national treasure in his homeland of Ghana underpins the significance and importance of African Dance in Ghana. This valuable text will assist dancers, choreographers and other performing artists to fulfil Nii’s ambition to sustain dance, engaging individuals, whether artists or audience as it assists the ‘ability of its creators to arouse and inspire emotional involvement’. In  African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations, Nii provides a lasting legacy for generations of artists to come.


Additionally, in this book, perhaps for the first time, readers are provided with a real window into the ‘outdooring’ (naming and presenting) of African dance both ancient and new, within the traditional setting, on the concert stage and in the studio context. Nii generously foregrounds the processes, thinking, approaches and encoded symbolisms that provide meaning in the production of African dance expression, making it an invaluable text for dance practitioners, choreographers, arts teachers and the general public alike.


 'H' Pattenis choreographer and artistic director of Koromanti Arts in the UK

'Sochenda' performed in 1999 by Noyam

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