Wesleyan portrait of Iddrisu  Saaka

Iddrisu Saaka

Assistant Professor of Dance

Dance Studios, 160 Cross St, 005
860-685-2215

isaaka@wesleyan.edu

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DIPL University of Ghana
MFA University of California, Los Angeles

Iddrisu Saaka

Saaka is a West African dance teacher, dancer, drummer and choreographer who  believes in the power of dance to open doors, bring people together to celebrate diversity, empower and question status quo. He researches dance and music forms of different West African countries and engage in diverse initiatives that put West African music and dance forms in critical dialogue with contemporary and western dance forms to produce new knowledge and direct bold and innovative community engagement initiatives that educate, question, challenge and interrogate misconceptions about Africa. His research takes shape in three distinct and interrelated forms: Teaching in a variety of diverse and critical contexts; Choreography for the concert stage; and Social practice engaging with communities. These three spheres combine to develop new knowledge, and interrogate old ideas, in and through the area of West African arts and performance.

Although Saaka’s training is in Ghanaian dance forms, he pursues a rigorous research agenda to broaden his knowledge to include dance forms of other West African countries. He is curious in researching the environment in which traditional dances were created, how cultural practices such as gender roles and social status are reinforced through dance and how current socio-political landscapes in different West African countries impact their dance forms today. Since 2008, Saaka has conducted field research on dance forms of the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, resulting in acquiring teaching knowledge in nine dance and music forms from these countries that now feature prominently in his West African dance curriculum at Wesleyan. It is Saaka’s long-term research agenda to conduct field research in the dance forms of several West African countries with immediate interest in Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia, Benin, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Saaka is equally invested in a rigorous and on-going cross-cultural creative practice where his research in West African dance and music intersect with Western modern, contemporary, contact improvisation and other dance forms to create original and cutting-edge choreographies. In this regard, he collaborates with movement practitioners from these movement backgrounds. By putting these dance practices in conversation with one another, these investigations push, challenge and question current understandings of what is dance and what it means to be a dancer and create contemporary work. He has collaborated with contemporary dance practitioners and scholars such as Liam Clancy; Professor of dance at UC San Diego, Rachel Boggia; Associate Professor of Dance at Connecticut College and Nicole Stanton; Professor of Dance and Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of Wesleyan University. Saaka’s most research collaboration was with Rachel Boggia in 2018 which culminated in the creation of an evening length performance; SHAKE which premiered in the Center for the Arts theater at Wesleyan and later performed in a festival in Maine. Such cross-cultural collaborations bring West African and Western dance forms together to engage in open conversations and culminate in original choreographies that challenge and question the categorization of West African dance as ethnic dance forms and Western forms as high art and thereby contribute to the appreciation and respect of cultural pluralism, diversity and difference.

Saaka also uses West African music, dance and stories to engage with communities and educate young audiences about Africa and cultural diversity. This is especially important in this era of rampant racism, discrimination, bias and marginalization of under privileged societies by powerful ones and with Africa more often portrayed as a dark continent with nothing good to contribute to the world but misery, disease, poverty and hopelessness. His work exposes children in America to stories of Africa that are too often neglected. Since 2009 he does over 30 performances in the school year in K-12 schools across Connecticut and New York, using his full-length solo performance; Soro-Bindi to engage K-12 audiences on their views, opinions and  knowledge about Africa  and answer their questions about the continent. He also shares music, dances and stories about Africa and through such active engagements, students test their assumptions about Africa and new critical and nuanced knowledge is thus generated through the active participation and multiple perspectives of the diverse participants. This research is based on the premise that knowledge is built (not by an individual author or authority but) in community. This methodological commitment is based on an ethic of social justice that seeks to address institutionalized inequities and is line with Wesleyan’s social responsibility commitments. Histories are invoked, reimagined, and recreated. Performance is the practice, the investigation, the enaction of knowledge and our realities are a creative process. In every performance, the audience’s perceptions, prior knowledge or lack thereof, and interests about Africa, all play a crucial role in the discussion phase of the performance thereby making each performance a unique community knowledge generating moment. Through this process audiences acquire useful tools to engage as active and positive players in a world that is forever in need of open and critical minds, healing, appreciation and respect of cultural difference and diversity.  

Iddi Saaka ​​is a versatile and award-winning West African dance and music performance artist and teacher who specializes in Ghanaian dance and music forms as well as contemporary dance. Saaka holds a Diploma (with distinction) in Dance from the University of Ghana and an MFA in Dance from University of California, Los Angeles. He has performed and taught nationally and internationally in several venues including Los Angeles, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, Israel, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Guinea. In 2003, he performed for the president of Israel. He has created original multifaceted works that address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ghana and Malawi and has worked with youths in detention centers across Connecticut as well as with physically challenged youth in Israel, using dance and music to equip them with lifelong skills such as anger management, respect for cultural diversity, and self-dignity. Saaka has also performed in K-12 Schools and adult residential care facilities across California, Connecticut and Israel, sharing the power of music and dance to build community and educate about cultural diversity and respect for difference. Saaka has taught dance at Wesleyan University from 2008 and was the recipient of Wesleyan’s prestigious Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching award in 2019. Prior to teaching at Wesleyan, Saaka served as Visiting Instructor of Dance at University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, San Diego and the University of Ghana. His research takes shape in three distinct and interrelated forms: Teaching in a variety of diverse and critical contexts; Choreographing for the concert stage; and Social practice engagement with communities. These three spheres combine to develop new knowledge, and interrogate old ideas, in and through the area of West African arts and performance.

Academic Affiliations

Courses

Fall 2020
DANC 111 - 01
Introduction to Dance

DANC 260 - 01
West African Dance I

DANC 360 - 01
West African Dance II

Spring 2021
DANC 260 - 01
West African Dance I

DANC 365 - 01
West African Dance III