Jason Aryeh, assistant professor of performing arts at Elon University, grew up in what he described as a typical small village in Ghana.
“The fact that I grew up in a very different environment and culture is one way that I try to inspire students,” he said. “If I am able to come up from an environment where technology does not exist, then everything is possible — you just have to work hard for it.”
Aryeh shares his passion for dance and learning with students at Elon everyday, and recently the Black Cultural Society recognized him with the Outstanding Black Faculty Award.
“I was told to come over to the banquet to support the black students on campus, which I do all the time,” Aryeh said. “I love to see them being awarded and recognized for what they are doing on campus, so when I was told to come and support them I was really excited about it. I had no idea I was getting an award.”
He specializes in fusing traditional Western-African movement with modern dance to create a unique form of movement that challenges the body to explore in a very different way in a style Aryeh calls “Afro-modern infusion.”
This past winter term he took a group of students on a performing arts trip to Ghana.
“When we got to Ghana, I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a really life changing experience, and I really have to credit Jason for that,” junior Justin Pierce said.
Before the trip, Pierce said the only dance experience he had was ballroom, which is nothing like what they had to do in Ghana.
“He always believed in us and was always such an inspiration. We got to see Jason in his hometown, if you will. Here in America things are very different,” Pierce said. “People from Ghana are much more close. It’s not really about material, it’s about family and unity, so we got to know Jason on a much more personal level, and that really helped us as people and boosted morale for all of our concerts.”
Aryeh said his passion for sharing, teaching and embracing his unique background with students led him to look for jobs at small schools where he could make meaningful connections with students in and out of the classroom.
“Jason simply loves the art of dance and loves sharing his passion with students and his colleagues. His passion and energy are infectious and he motivates the students on a daily basis by his example in and out of the dance studio,” said Lauren Kearns, head of the performing arts dance program. “He is dedicated, committed, talented and an incredibly kind and generous person.”
Humble is another word that perfectly describes Aryeh.
Of his award, Aryeh said it was an honor that he thinks will set him up to do more of his scholarly work and more reaching out to students — not only black students, but all students — and inspire them with his passion.
“One of the best moments at the banquet was when my name was mentioned by some of the students as one of the inspirers,” Aryeh said. “I had no idea I was doing that!”
He hopes that students will become more open and more inquisitive in terms of reaching out to the faculty and knowing more about them.
“I have a lot to share, not only as a dance professor here, but in general as a human being coming from a different and unique background,” he said. “Have lunch with a professor you have never met before. Get to know them and broaden your horizons to become a global student. The more you know about so many things the more you become a better person.”