Student Experiences of ‘Soul Healing’ in Music and Dance Performance Courses at the University of California, Los Angeles

This dissertation illuminates students’ experiences of “soul healing” through the cultivation of spirituality, self-love/ self-knowledge, mentorship, and community in the context of two UCLA courses: the Music and Dance of Ghana World Music Performance Ensemble, taught by master drummer Kobla Ladzekpo of the Anlo-Ewe ethnic group in Ghana, West Africa, and “Advanced Hip Hop,” taught by “street dance” pioneer and choreographer Rennie Harris, of Philadelphia, PA. My definition of soul healing is inspired by historian Bernice Johnson Reagon’s conviction that many African American music traditions were conceived and carried out for the purpose of treating the wounds left by “soul murder,” a phenomenon that historian Nell Irvin Painter characterizes as the collective trauma that resulted from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath. Drawing upon philosopher Arnold Van Gennep’s theory of rites of passage and anthropologist Victor Turner’s ensuing conceptualization of liminality, I conclude that the courses explored in this dissertation create the circumstance for a transitioning into adulthood that empowers students to healthfully matriculate through the university while they heal mentally and physically from challenges faced before and during college. My qualitative research, based upon five years of participant observation, advances our understanding of the significance of ethnomusicology pioneer Mantle Hood’s theory of bi-musicality and the role of performance ensembles in current world music pedagogy, while also prompting a renewed appreciation for the presence of African and “African descended” music and dance instruction in higher education. This study contributes to the disciplines of African American studies, African musicology, dance studies, dance and movement therapy, education, and anthropology, while adding more specifically to the fields of cultural studies and ethnomusicology.