Standing before the congregation of Nelson Mandela’s former church in Soweto, South Africa, Amber Rance felt an inexplicable energy surrounding herself and the performers alongside her.
This church was the first stop on the “Same Story, Different Countries” tour of South Africa, which took place over a portion of the winter break. The program integrates art forms with research to portray the shared struggles within South African and American history. For Rance, a freshman biochemistry major, that performance remains the most memorable.
“The people were so inviting and so sweet,” Rance says, smiling. “It was a church and you just felt, higher up, do you know what I mean?”
She trails off, looking around at the other group members seated around the black table in the Dance Minor studio.
They nod in agreement.
The concept for “Same Story, Different Countries,” began in summer 2015. While it began with research, the result is a conglomeration of all the performers’ passions, from song and dance to educating children.
Before the tour’s finale in South Africa, the group toured in the United States. Participants consisted of more than 30 UD students and faculty members, as well as students from the University of Cape Town, Towson University and dancers from Wilmington, Dover, Philadelphia, North Carolina and South Africa.
Like Rance, each student had a story or experience which changed the context of their performance. Dances and songs on topics such as apartheid, senior Pernilla Mpasi says, were given a new depth when they were performed for South African community members who had experienced it firsthand.
“‘You danced through what we fought for,’” Mpasi says, repeating the words a woman had shared with her after one of their performances.
Mpasi is just one of the more than 20 students and faculty who traveled to Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa for the tour.
For senior elementary education major Marielle Kraft, her involvement in “Same Story, Different Countries” was twofold. In addition to singing in the performances, she conducted lesson plans to use for South African schoolchildren.
University students started by conducting research within a specific range of topics, Kraft says, ticking them off one by one on her fingers: oppression, resistance, resilience or liberation.
Their findings not only contributed to the song choices and choreography but also to the lesson plans Kraft used on the tour.
The group laughs as they share anecdotes from the trip. Kraft, smiling, remembers her visit to a professional development conference in Cape Town, where she was able to speak with South African educators.
“[Arts integration] is something I have done research on since last summer — and it was blowing their minds that they could teach the water cycle through dance [or] English concepts through song,” Kraft says. “That was such an enlightening moment for me as a budding educator.”
She says she is grateful for the expansive education she has received in the United States.
Gratitude was not an unfamiliar feeling for the rest of the group members either. Lynnette Overby, the artistic director of the program and a UD theater and dance professor, had every student keep a journal to remember how they felt each day of the tour. When asked how they were feeling by the last day, an almost unanimous “thankful” echoes through the room.
While in South Africa, the student dancers had the opportunity to attend a dance workshop with the South African dance company, Moving into Dance. While the contemporary classes mirrored what the dancers were accustomed to in the United States, the Afrofusion class was an entirely new and rewarding experience, says sophomore leadership major Nicodemus Williams.
“It is not something you would see over here [in the U.S.] — it is very intimate,” he says. “That is the best way I can describe it.”
While South Africa marked the official end of the “Same Stories, Different Countries” tour, Williams says it is only the beginning.
“We got something in the works,” Williams trails off, receiving vigorous nods of agreement from the rest of the group. “This is what I can say about the future, we want to [continue] to reach out to people in need and give back to the places we visited.”