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African Dance History Research


What do we know about dance and its origins

This is a research about the origins and progressions of dance in ancient Benin Empire, of the present day Edo State of Nigeria

This research is targeted at bringing light to possible evidence of the creation of specific dance movements amongst the people of Edo State Nigeria.

My name is Sinclair Emoghene and I am a Dance faculty (Assistant Professor) at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I teach Dance History, Dance Technique and Dance Composition. My areas of research interests include Dance and Human History - where I am currently proposing a new research that looks at the origins of dance in ancient African kingdoms and how dance developed through time and became part of the communal life of the people. Part of my interests include performance creation/choreography, contemporary African dance.

The aim of this research is to develop a thesis that shows the presence of dance in ancient Benin Empire. I am focusing on the specific development of stylized dancing and its origins, while looking at chronology (time) and the various means of which dance may have been documented. With the knowledge that oral history abound, my goal is to tie oral history to hard evidence. I am looking at records that have been archived in the works of the bronze casters of Egun Street and how they have been able to stealthily leave information that would help the discovery of how stylized dancing originated. The fascinating thing about this project is the fact that with such close look at the details in these bronze works, I will be able to decipher qualities of movements, the texture of body extensions used and the major players in the dances, through observing the artifacts from this ancient kingdom.


West Africa:

This is the present day West Africa. The map shows the different kingdoms and the locations of ancient civilizations found in West of Africa. We can see a through line to what made up the present countries of West Africa.


Nigeria is one of the 16 West African countries and is home to one of the most prosperous ancient kingdoms of Africa the Benin Empire. The kingdom is located in the southern plains of the country Nigeria, with many other neighboring kingdoms that may have flourished at the same time the kingdom was at its peak.



Benin Empire:

Benin is ruled by the Oba (King) who is the spiritual and constitutional head of the kingdom. In a successful monarchy, the kingdom flourished and became one of the most technologically advanced civilization of its time. With a huge innovation in bronze casting, the people were able to create timeless pieces of what we see now as art.



around 1600


The Plaques and dance

While looking at the bronze works, I am fascinated by the amount of details that can be found. With such intricate details we are able to see fine definitions and pictorial design and representation of what the kingdom and people looked like. More so with further studies I am thrilled that there are an insurmountable amount of details that needs to be deciphered, for that am truly excited that we can write about dance in a more objective light, as this research goes underway.

Please stay tuned for more about this work.