5:30 p.m.: Introduction to Afro-Cuban Dance, Halsey Hall

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Students learn Afro-Cuban dance moves and beats in a class offered through the Department of Dance. Video by Kirk Murray.

Classroom Pass is an Iowa Now project that sent teams of writers, photographers, and videographers to 15 classes on Wednesday, Oct. 22, to showcase the breadth and strength of the University of Iowa's academic offerings for undergraduates as well as its dynamic faculty and state-of-the-art facilities. See what other classes they visited.

Class: Introduction to Afro-Cuban Dance
Instructors: Modei Akyea, Latin dance instructor, and Paul Cunliffe, dance accompanist

Before they dance, they need to drum.

That is the routine tonight in a warm Halsey Hall studio. Paul Cunliffe, who provides the soundtrack for the evening’s activity, seeks four volunteers to lay down a beat.

The group of students, which numbers 10, seems a bit reluctant, but soon enough, a quartet of brave souls sits in front of large drums and the beat slowly takes shape. A steady pulse fills the room, accents are added to the mix, and the other students follow Modei Akyea’s lead in moving to the music.

Learn more about the university's Department of Dance, and consider adding to your calendar an upcoming performance by the Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble.

The course is described as “an introduction to the dance, drumming, and songs of the Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions; emphasis on dance.” The course offers an element of dance and culture to students not necessarily pursuing a dance degree, if first impressions are to be trusted (one young man wore jeans, which seems nontraditional dance attire).

But that’s not to say the students aren’t taking the course material seriously. As class progresses beyond warm-ups, the students run through a routine with energy and intensity, crisscrossing the studio floor, limbs moving to and fro, faces expressing concentration and joy. Cunliffe and a young accompanist keep time while Akyea offers instruction and encouragement. And the students sing a refrain of syllables that certainly holds great meaning for the initiated.

The whole scene is infectious—even a certain writer finds himself tapping his feet throughout.