Dr. S. Ama Wray

Spring 2018 Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program Visiting Scholar, UW–Madison Arts Institute

Mami Wata | Wata Mami

I mirror Mami Wata, the hybrid female water spirit of African origin; she flows and shows across the Diaspora. Why’s it only now that I happen upon her? Is it because she’s archetypally feminine and I consider myself not?  But, is this not a powerful reason as to why I should reflect her, tango with her, mimic her or make a humble confession concerning my denial? Maybe there is still time for MW to rise within me? I hear the ancestors reminding me that fixity is unbecoming to the Creator. Perhaps my iteration could be a truer mirror, a reversal of sorts : Ataw Imam. Yes, this resonates with my soul! Or perhaps I could explore another facing: Wawi Mafa.  Now that sounds like water, ‘a gentle tide washing in and away from the shore’. So, despite my late arrival at Mami Wata’s place, I’m sure that I’ll  now encounter her with increased frequency. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found life to be like that: once you know you cannot un-know. I sense there’s a proverb in there, somewhere. And without the blinkers, the filters and my load of preconditions the dynamism of MW’s ageless rhythms and wisdom are once again in motion.


Dr. S. Ama Wray, Associate Professor of Dance at the University of California, Irvine, describes herself as a ‘Neo-African Performance Architect.’ In 2018 she was recognized by  the Comparative & International Education Society, receiving one of four African Diaspora Emerging Scholar Awards. Receiving her PhD from the University of Surrey; her dissertation, “Towards Embodiology: Modelling Relations between West African Performance Practices, Contemporary Dance Improvisation and Seselelame” brought forth  Embodiology® – a six-tier transdisciplinary methodology that results in practitioners being able to create on-the-spot, with or for others, with mindful dexterity. A new essay on this subject titled “Embodiology®: A Neo-African Improvisation-as-Performance Practice, distinguished by Dynamic Rhythm,” is forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Improvisation in Dance, edited by Vida Midgelow. Further dissemination of the praxis, demonstrating how movement inspires the mind, is evident in her TEDx Talk, “Bodily Steps to Innovation.” Before academia, in the UK, she was a member of both London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance Company, and 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, now known simply as JazzXchange. Later, her improvisation praxis also reached into digital domains, when her National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts Fellowship produced the award- winning Texterritory, in collaboration with Fleeta Siegel. Additionally, she has 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.