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FunTimes Magazine

Dottie Wilkie

Dorothy Wilkie began to study African dance as a child in 1955, first as an art form and later as an aspect of her spiritual practice as an orisha devotee and initiate. She joined Kulu Mele as a dancer in 1974 and later became the company’s dance captain. She has served as artistic director for more than 30 years. She has studied dance with Les Ballets Africains in Guinea, the National Dance Company of Senegal, and in Cuba and the United States. She has performed with Chuck Davis and Grupo de Danza Nueva Generacion and has choreographed for Lantern Theater Company and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as for Kulu Mele. In 2007, she was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. In 2015, she and her husband, John Wilkie, received lifetime achievement awards from the Philadelphia Folklore Project for their contributions to arts and culture.


What is a defining moment in your career and life? Looking back over 45 years and all the wonderful experiences with Kulu Mele, I think about our recent annual show in December 2019, which was our 50th anniversary performance. It was the culmination of a beautiful journey, including a company trip to Santiago, Cuba to study and learn (funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.) I had a vision to do this Yoruba Afro-Cuban pataki, as a play. The play was about Ogun & the People. It told a beautiful story. I had travelled to Santiago several times and built a bridge of communication before we made this trip. Kulu Mele studied this play and put together the biggest production ever. This production will stay with me forever. It filled everyone’s spirit.

What challenges have you faced as a woman of color in your field and how did you overcome them?

I found it very challenging studying African culture. It was hard to find material and resources to study when I first started. To get a video with dancing, singing and drumming was like having gold. Now we have You Tube and artists from the continent giving classes. There was no funding back then, either. I stayed with it out of love for the culture and to keep the culture alive by passing it on. I have been the director of Kulu Mele since 1979 with no salary. I helped pave the way for where the culture is today in Philadelphia.

What woman inspires you and why?

Joan Myers Brown inspires me with the amazing job she has done creating a wonderful Black ballet company Philadanco. I look up to her. I want Kulu Mele to be like her company: touring, owning your own building, having a residency at the Kimmel Center for the Arts.

What is your advice to the younger generation of women coming after you?

Follow your dream. Plant the seed and nourish it. God will do the rest

What does being a part of the African Diaspora mean to you?

Keeping the culture alive, passing the torch and feeding the spirit.