Dancer and Choreographer Rosie Poku ’17 Recounts Her Beginnings in West African Dance

Walking around the streets of Macon, Ga., ten-year-old Rosie Poku ’17 noticed a brightly-colored poster out of the corner of her eye. As she approached the poster, she read “West African Dance” in bold lettering and, Poku recalled to The Phillipian, she became instantly interested. Poku excitedly ran home, looking forward to the prospect of taking her first West African dance class.

“I thought it was super cool… I had never done it before. My father is from West Africa, so I’m West African by descent, and I thought I could connect with my heritage,” said Poku.

Although Poku took dance classes in tap and jazz when she was about three-years old, it wasn’t until she enrolled in West African dance classes that she fell in love with dance. According to Poku, she was initially attracted to West African dance because of its distinct dynamic energy.

“I like West African [dance] much more because it’s more lively and I was able to jump around more, which I felt like embodied myself more than [other styles like] jazz… [West African dance is] very upbeat, and it’s very lively, and you’re supposed to smile throughout the whole [routine], at least in my studio. So I just particularly enjoy that because it’s an energy booster,” said Poku.

By middle school, Poku had joined the Hayiya Dance Ensemble, a professional dance and percussion ensemble in Macon. Poku said that she was very timid as a new member of the group, but the teachers and students of the Hayiya Dance Ensemble welcomed her and helped her step out of her comfort zone and find her own style in her movement.

“The people at my studio had such amazing spirit and energy both on and off of the dance floor. Not only were they amazing dancers who pushed me to work my hardest and go full out in every rehearsal and performance, they were also genuinely kind and caring people. It was like a family at Hayiya,” said Poku.

One of Poku’s inspirations was her West African dance teacher, Pilar Wilder Lowden, who is also Artistic Director and founder of Hayiya Dance Theatre. Not only is Lowden an exceptional dancer, but Poku also described to The Phillipian Lowden’s admirable character.

“She’s an incredible dancer, but then she’s my life inspiration apart from dance, because she’s one of the kindest, smartest people I know, and she really puts herself in everything she does… She’s a super powerful black woman, which I want to be able to be one day… In dance, she’s always pushing us to go 110 percent, so I guess that still sticks with me, so whenever I have a performance, I put all of myself into it,” said Poku.

Although she left the ensemble to come to Andover, Poku continues to dance on campus. Poku joined Hypnotiq, Andover’s hip-hop dance group, during her Junior year. Being one of the youngest students in the group at the time, Hypnotiq allowed her to gain confidence in herself and translate that into her dance.

Poku said, “[In Hypnotiq] my freshmen year, I was always in the back row, and I was always more timid when I was dancing. I wouldn’t go full out to the extent where I would put all of my personality into it my dancing as I do now. I think it’s being more comfortable with the Andover community, and being more comfortable with myself, so that I am able to do that more.”

During her Lower year, Poku joined SLAM, Andover’s step-dance group, where she was first introduced to choreographing routines. She is currently one of the co-choreographers of the group.

“To see the [choreography] that I made being performed and people cheering for it is super cool. I now love choreographing pieces by myself, so it’s really rewarding… I try to make dances that are high energy, and that’s a piece of West African [dance] because it was always super high energy. It’s really the energy piece that I try to keep throughout all of my dancing,” said Poku.

As much as Poku has grown as a dancer, she will never forget the foundation of her dance.

“I have so many positive memories dancing and being with my dance friends and teachers from back home… Dance makes me really happy, being able to move and express yourself however you want. I love being able to perform on stage. It gives me a rush,” said Poku.