Dance Africa Founder to Step Down

Dance Africa founder and director Rita J. Honka

Will Continue as Dance Faculty Member

January 8, 2015—After more than two decades of bringing Willamette Valley audiences the dance and music of humanity’s birthplace, Rita J. Honka, founder of the University of Oregon’s Dance Africa program, is stepping down from her role as company director. The company is known for its eclectic performance style and grade schools outreach. 
Fans, friends, and concertgoers can help the UO bid goodbye to Honka in a three-night farewell Dance Africa concert scheduled for Jan. 22, 23, and 24, 8 p.m. each evening in the Dougherty Dance Theatre in Gerlinger Annex on the UO campus. 
Concert tickets cost $10 for general admission and $5 for student and seniors, and are available in advance from the UO Ticket Office, 541-346-4363. Tickets may be available at the door except in the case of a sold out performance.
“It has been an amazing twenty-three years,” Honka commented. “I thank our devoted supporters and audiences. I will miss the company and guest artists, but what I will miss most is the children.”
"I am stepping down from Dance Africa in order to focus on my research in Dance Somatics, with the desire to begin writing,” explained Honka. “I will continue my role in the Department of Dance—choreographing, teaching Somatics, teaching African and Modern dance, and co-directing the UO Repertory Dance Company.”
The 2015 Dance Africa concert, which will utilize over twenty dancers and drummers, will also feature guest artist in residence Alseny Soumah, a dancer, musician, choreographer, and arts educator from Guinea, West Africa. From the time he used to sneak in to watch rehearsals of dance companies when he was a small boy, Soumah has been a consistent creative force in African dance. It is a role he continues to hold in California, where he now resides. 
Soumah has toured Africa, Europe, and the US, and has performed at Lincoln Center, among other notable venues. In 1988-89, Soumah danced as a member of Guinea’s national dance company, Les Ballets Africains. 
Repertoire for Dance Africa 2015 will feature “Kassa,” a piece choreographed by Honka and based on cultural dance of the Malinke people of Guinea, celebrating the annual rice harvest. Additional pieces will include “Nzobi,” a dance of the Mbongo people of Congo; “Gumboots,” featuring a style of dance that first evolved in the mines of South Africa as a means of communication; “Muchongoyo,” a warrior dance from Zimbabwe; and “Yonvalou,” a ritual dance originated in Benin.
Rita J. Honka, senior instructor of dance, earned her MS degree at the UO, and her BS at Wayne State University. She began teaching at the UO in 1994 as a part-time adjunct instructor, a position that became full-time in 2001. 
In 1993 Honka founded Dance Africa, a company that has the dual purpose of working with artists from a variety of African ethnic groups and subsequently performing and teaching in area schools. In 2005 Honka founded Rita Honka Dance, an Oregon-based contemporary dance company that debuted nationally in September of 2006 in Chicago, IL. She also serves—and will continue to serve—as co-director of the University of Oregon Repertory Dance Company (UORDC), the UO’s touring company. 
Honka taught for eight years at Linfield College in McMinnville, and her work has been produced extensively at the UO, Linfield, and Willamette University, as well as for the Co-art Dance Company.
Brian West has served as Dance Africa musical director for the past thirteen seasons, and first performed with the group in 1993. West leads African drumming classes at the School of Music and Dance, and has been an accompanist in the Department  of Dance for over twenty years. Combining his teaching and accompaniment skills, West instructs various African “Accompaniment Labs” during dance classes, providing his students with a hands-on approach as well as a professional insight into the accompanist’s role in live dance. 
Credit for Honka photo: Dakota Bouher