Letter to the editor: Cancellation of Afro-Cuban classes a loss to the UI

Old Capitol
The UI’s Afro-Cuban classes ran for 12 years. — photo by Charles “Chinese-Buffalo” via Flickr Creative Commons

By James Dreier, Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Music

Note: In April the word came down that the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was drastically reducing the funding for the three Afro-Cuban classes (Intro to Drum, Intro to Dance and the Performance Group) and as a result, the classes were put on “hiatus.” We instructors were told by those who make and/or hand down such decisions, that “the cancellation is totally due to the low enrollment” and had nothing to do with the quality of the teaching or the content of the class. After 12 years these classes will not be offered to UI students.

Dear UI Afro Cuban Drum and Dance Classes,

You are on hiatus. You have been stopped. If you do come back, you will be something different. Those of us who conceived and created you back in 2003 are left to pick up the pieces, put away the drums, videos, 12 years of research materials and move on. We were lucky to have you as long as we did — a longevity due to the good graces of those who cared for you and recognized your worth.

It took a lot of work to raise you and we were proud of your achievements. When you were just starting out we went to Cuba with a group of UI students to study with the great rumba group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. When you were about nine you were featured in the UI Latin Jazz Festival concert at the Englert Theater. Some folks say they will never forget the artistic excellence you displayed that night. Through the years, your culturally diverse message was presented in concert halls, school gyms and nursing homes all across Iowa (UI Arts Share). School children would go crazy and dance to your energetic rhythms. It was really something to see and something they had never seen. You proved over and over to be a real service to the community and the State of Iowa.

And talk about a globally conscious environment, not only did your performances promote a larger worldview, your UI students were from all over that world. They came from Ghana, Togo, Mexico, Sudan, China, Venezuela, Columbia, Kenya, South Korea, Turkey and of course many from the U.S. It was a mixing pot of UI undergraduate and graduate students who transcended their own worlds to explore a new one. Many spent their entire college life in your artistic creation of folkloric Afro-Cuban music and dance.

But raising a tween is tough. Raising one with a complicated history, who lives as an outlier in the Darwinian world of academia is even harder. The great beast of institutional bureaucracy sensed this weakness, and in a reflexive move of shortsighted self-interest, cut you off.

It will be difficult and strange next fall when class time rolls around and you are not there to demand our attention. That same great beast that I gladly suckle up to for my own livelihood (although my portion just got somewhat smaller) will continue to move on, swatting away vulnerable appendages so as to sustain the strong. You see, you were an unlikely entity in today’s academic institution: A truly unique creative endeavor, driven by passion and the desire to share unique knowledge. Now you are gone. Putting you on hiatus will have a miniscule effect on any funding challenges, but your guardians, UI students and the people of Iowa will be much poorer to have lost you.

*All bold text from the UI CLAS mission statement.


  1. Thank you for adding so much and for creating this community of Afro-Cubanness here in Iowa. Whoever thought cutting the classes was going to help hasn’t looked at enrollment throughout the university.
    I’m saddened by this fiscal act.
    Dr. Tanya English

  2. Fine letter! Nice touch using the University’s own “mission statement” to point out its hypocrisy. At a time when institutional violence against black men is highlighting our desperate need for genuine and vital approaches to multicultural education, universities forget their lip service to “culturally diverse artistic excellence” and a “globally conscious environment” and narrow offerings to fit what Vandana Shiva calls the “monoculture of the mind.” I had expected better from the University of Iowa.

  3. I am sad and angry to hear this news. The performances were fantastic, well attended and everyone had a great time.

  4. This class was the only one offered by the UI dance department that made it look like they were “trying” at being diverse:
    I don’t know what I will do without the welcoming space this class provided me. Knowing that I won’t have Afrocuban dancing to look forward to on my Thursday evenings has definitely left a hole in my heart.

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