"The drums were calling me."
Dorothy Wilkie's (b. 1944) choreography involves the re-staging and re-choreographing of traditional West African and Afro-Cuban dances. For example, with Yankadi-Makura, a dance of the Susu people of Guinea, which is performed as a social ritual, allowing young people a public outlet for flirting, Wilkie maintians key elements like the rhythmic patterns while incorporating hip-hop moves. This was the first time that she experimented with hip-hop, saying, "As a performer and choreographer of African-based dances, I have always been aware of the relationship between popular African-American cultural expression and African arts." She approaches her work both as an art form and as an aspect of her spiritual practice as an Orisha (deities) devotee and initiate.
Wilkie has been to Cuba five times and has traveled to Africa. She has had a dance residency with Cuban dance company Cutumba; participated in Fiesta del Fuego Conference; studied Orisha dance in Havana and Guinean dance in Guinea with M'bemba Bangoura; West African dance with the Jassu Ballet, James Marshall, Jackie Corley, M'bemba Bangoura, and Youssouf Koumbassa. Wilkie has also studied mambo, meringue, Nigerian and Ghanaian dance, and Santeria and Yoruba dance and culture. Wilkie has also created works for the ODUNDE Festival, Painted Bride Art Center, and University of Pennsylvania, to name a few. Among her honors are a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship, Leeway Window of Opportunity awards, and a Barrymore Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography/Movement. She has been the artistic director and choreographer of Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble for more than 20 years.