2019 Assembly Keynote Speaker Wray

photo by Aliza Rand

Dr. S. Ama Wray

Dr. Wray, Associate Professor of Dance at the University of California, Irvine, describes herself as a ‘Africana Performance Architect.’ In 2018 Sheron Wray, PhD, was recognized by the Comparative & International Education Society, receiving one of four African Diaspora Emerging Scholars Awards. She received her PhD from the University of Surrey; her dissertation is entitled, “Towards Embodiology: Modelling Relations between West African Performance Practices, Contemporary Dance Improvisation and Seselelame.” As a result of her interdisciplinary scholarship engaging with dance, music and community-held knowledge, she continues to develop and disseminate her praxis of Embodiology® on three continents. Invited by Temple University she gave a keynote lecture for their international Dance Studies Colloquium in 2017. At the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Florida, she was a Master Artist-in Residence  in Spring of 2018 and prior to this was The Interdisciplinary Artist-in-Residence for the Division of the Arts, University of Wisconsin Madison. Here she created Embodiology @ Work, Embodiology @ Play, a piece that explored the local socio-political economy as it connects and displaces the indigenous. For New Waves Institute, Trinidad and Tobago, she was also scholar-in-residence, presenting the principles and research underpinning Embodiology® to African diaspora dance and music artists. The inclusive nature of this praxis has also found confluence with musicians studying jazz at the San Francisco Music Conservatory with an understanding of its African foundations.

A new essay on this subject titled, “A Hybrid Neo-African Improvisation-as-Performance Practice Distinguished by Dynamic Rhythm," is forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Improvisation in Dance, edited by Vida Midgelow, and Routledge published an introductory iteration of its grounding concepts in a chapter entitled, "Just after the Pulse, Rhythm Takes All: The Inside Habitat of Improvisation," in British Dance, Black Routes, edited by Christy Adair and Ramsay Burt (2016). Further dissemination of the praxis, demonstrating how movement inspires the mind, is evident in her TEDx Talk, “Bodily Steps to Innovation.” In January 2018 she launched the Africana Institute for Creativity, Recognition and Elevation (AICRE) at UCI, supported by Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o. With a mission to “create a dynamic exchange of cultural, scientific, economic and spiritual knowledge between local communities and academia to positively impact the next generation, so that people of African descent can equitably contribute towards a more sustainable society and command respect worldwide.”

Harmonica (2008) photo by Irven Lewis

In the UK she was a leading member of premier dance companies: London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance Company; moreover, she is also widely known for her role as performer and custodian of Harmonica Breakdown (1938), choreographed by Jane Dudley. She also founded JazzXchange Music and Dance Company, collaborating with musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Gary Crosby, Zoe Rahman and Julian Joseph. In 2014 she reestablished the company in the USA. Her improvisation praxis has also reached into digital domains, her National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts Fellowship produced the award winning Texterritory, an interactive cell phone-based performance platform created in collaboration with Fleeta Siegel. Alongside choreography she has regularly directed African-centered physical theater plays by activist playwright/performer Mojisola Adebayo. Muhammad Ali and Me and Moj of the Antarctic toured both the UK and Southern Africa.

Alongside choreographing S. Ama has taught dance at many professional company, conservatory and community organizations. Due to her background and artistic interest she is equally adept at teaching modern (Graham-based) Jazz (Matt Mattox based) and Improvisation (Embodiology® –her improvisation-as-performance method). In January 2014 she taught Embodiology® - her improvisation-as-performance method, at the Martha Graham School in New York. She has held had teaching positions with the Royal Ballet School and English National Ballet school, (upper school – modern dance faculty) London Contemporary Dance School (modern), The Place (Professional class series). She has also undertaken teaching residencies with Carnegie Mellon University, University of Surrey, Middlesex University, Rick Odums Centre de Jazz Danse – Paris, James Carles - Toulouse, Centre National de Danse – Paris, DV8 Dance Company, Independent Dance (ID) and Mathew Bourne’s New Adventures in London. She has also taught company classes for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – during their UK tour and workshops for the extension program in New York.

TEDxTalk - Bodily Steps to Innovation – improvisation performed by S. Ama Wray, May 2011.

Ama Wray and JazzXchange

Embodiology: A Lecture by Dr. S. Ama Wray - UW-Madison Division of the Arts

African Institute for Creativity Recognition and Elevation

Atlantic Center for the Arts and Embodiology

Wynton Marsalis Performance-Lecture – Harvard, September 2011

Exchanging Language: From the Orange to the Gold Coast – 50 minute documentary on trip to Ghana with 17 UCI Students.

Harmonica Breakdown – choreographed by Jane Dudley

Texterritory (a retrospective)

Princeton: Institute of Advanced Studies Lecture