Sena Abigail Atsugah: Embodying Knowledge and Experiences Through Dance 

PhD Dance

Sena Atsugah is a dancer and choreographer working towards her PhD in Dance at Temple. Having earned a BFA and MFA from the University of Ghana, Sena is now at Temple teaching, choreographing, dancing, and doing research that focuses on women in traditional African ritual dances in Africa and the African diaspora. Sena’s graduate work explores the ways that Women dancers can express and embody their knowledge to an audience. 

Sena Atsugah smiling on campus

What is your degree program, and how did you come to choose Temple to guide your studies?  

My program is a PhD in Dance, at Boyer College of Music and Dance. I wanted to come to grad school to better myself as an educator, a Black woman, and an African. As I better myself, I can find myself higher on the ladder and pull people up. Temple gave me this amazing opportunity and they were ready to support me with funding in connection with Fulbright so that I could come and explore my dreams.  

What do you aim to explore in your graduate research? What sort of impact do you hope to make with it? 

Basically, my research is looking into the embodied knowledge of women in traditional West African ritual dances. I believe that the bodies of women in performance, both in Africa and in the diaspora, have been underestimated. My research is trying to hone in on the knowledge that women have when they are dancing. It’s not just that they are telling their bodies what to do – they are expressing and embodying their knowledge and experiences to the audience. I am hoping to build a knowledge repository where young dancers, budding choreographers, and artists can see work that they connect with, and which speaks to them.  

How do you find community at Temple? 

As part of my graduate program, I am also teaching classes – Contemporary Matters in African Diasporic Dance with the seniors, and Neo-Traditional West African with the juniors. Waking up and coming to class is like a form of therapy for me because the classes are such a supportive environment. Even sometimes when I am down, I’ll go to class, and when I hear the drums and dance with the students, I feel that we are sharing that energy and I feel uplifted. My parents and my children are not here, so I am happy that I have been able to rely on my students and department for a sense of community. Also, my professors in Boyer have been very supportive of me -- especially my chair, Dr. Karen Bond, Dr. yaTande and Dr. Ama Mazama at the Africology Department, have been a support system. They always check in on me, and I know that I can always shoot them an email or a text when I need to talk with them. I also took some classes in the Africology department; there is a great community there and I have met some awesome people. That space has been both helpful and healing for me. 

What advice do you have for potential grad students at Temple? 

My advice is to follow your heart and follow your dreams, because when you have an idea, you’re the only one who can push yourself towards that dream. It’s important to remember that your family and friends are looking up to you, and the world is looking up to you. Once you make the decision to go to grad school, you’re becoming an inspiration for others in your community, so you can’t break down. You have to forge ahead, and success will come.