PhillyFolk Artists

Dorothy Wilkie

West African and African Diasporic Dancer

Dorothy Wilkie has danced professionally for 24 years. When she was 11, she studied mambo and merengue with local master drummers, including William Powell. Around 1970, she began to study Nigerian and Ghanaian dance with master drummers Robert Crowder and Saudah. In the 1970s, she became a dancer with Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble, and eventually took on the role of artistic director and choreographer for the company. Ms. Wilkie was influenced and taught by many artists, including Baba Ishangi, Arthur Hall, Assan Konte, M’bemba Bangoura, Marie Basse, Eartha Kitt, and other dancers from Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, and Ghana.

In the 1980s, she met Enriqué Adamo Admiral, a master drummer and dancer from Cuba, and participated in a group called Cumbaye, which involved Yoruba priests as well as other African Cubans. The group did batá and rhumbas performances. Admiral primarily taught the rhythms, dance, and song. Ms. Wilkie studied with Admiral for three years, learning santeria dancing and Yoruba culture.

Throughout the 1980s, involvement at bembés, Yoruba festivals, deepened her knowledge of African Cuban dance culture. She met Orlando Puntilla, a noted Cuban drummer and singer who specializes in playing bembés, chiefly in New York, and also has a group called Nueva Generacion. Ms. Wilkie has performed with Nueva Generacion on several occasions since 1991. In 1986, she also began studying West African dance and became a member of Jaasu Ballet. She has performed with these various ensembles, Chuck Davis, and others in a wide variety of settings. She has received grants and fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Dance Advance, as well as other awards, which have allowed her to travel to Cuba five times to study with the group Cutumba, attend the Fiesta del Fuego conference, and study orisha dance, and twice to Guinea to research and study traditional dance with M’bemba Bangoura, and to witness and participate in dance in traditional village contexts. She has participated in Philadelphia Folklore Project arts residency and “Philly Dance Africa” programs for over a dozen years, teaches at the Folk Arts – Cultural Treasures Charter School and has served as a PFP board member since 2004. In 2007, she was awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts for choreography.