There exists a stereotype that Black people generally have rhythm. As a result, no one wants to be that one Black person who can’t dance when the opportunity arises! So if you’re like me, you always make sure you have a signature move to show off so ‘you’re not left behind’ – unnecessary pressure, right! My friends always tease at how much I love to dance: at weddings I’ll be one of the first people on the dance floor. And yes, the featured picture above proves just how much I take my dancing seriously! Just to be clear, I have no background in formal dance training: I JUST LOVE TO DANCE!!!
When I was younger, I used to watch TV shows where people would dance ballet, tap, contemporary jazz, etc. We used to mimic some of the moves with friends at the time – imagining ourselves moving as gracefully as the dancers we saw on TV. In primary school we used to dance at school events, which was always fun. Secretly, I always wished to dance in a more formal context – gain some technique, learn some history about dance…
During my first year at the University of Cape Town (UCT), one of my friends introduced me to a contemporary African dance class offered by the UCT School of Dance to exchange students. The class is open to the community; so I went a few times and enjoyed it, but had to pause due to clashes with my class timetable. A few years later, I randomly decided to revisit the class. Maxwell Xolani Rani (fondly called Teach) is the lecturer and choreographer. He welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to put proper effort into learning the techniques.
We did various South African and West African dance moves in the class: Sabar dance is an elegant style which finds its origins in Wolof culture, and is embraced by most of Senegal. We also learnt Manjani, which is a Senegambian dance style. Senegambia refers to the region encompassing Senegal and the Gambia, in West Africa. Manjani is my favourite because of the feminine and light-footed movements! We learned Indlamu as well, which is a Zulu dance style usually performed during traditional ceremonies. What I enjoy most about the class is the communal aspect of the dancing: most routines are performed in circles and require dancers to maintain eye contact with one another. We are allowed to smile, clap hands and ululate – such freedom! With that being said, African dance is very challenging – it involves tons of cardio, squatting and lunging: Believe it or not, the intensity of African dance helped me with my training to complete the 42km (26.2 miles) London marathon last year (blog post about that coming soon, lol)!
It is my belief that music and dance transcend gender, race, and language… ~Babacar M’Baye
Historically and in general, dance is definitely an important part of African culture. You can find dancing and music at weddings, celebration parties, and other traditional ceremonies in African society… It’s funny how whenever I see styles like the vosho, gwara-gwara, azonto or the shoki on the dance floor, I can immediately link mos of them to a particular African dance technique I’ve learned.
Dancing and rejoicing are clearly connected.
For me personally, dance is a spiritual experience: I feel so close to God when I dance: as I raise my arms in Igbo position in praise; or on my knees during a particular movement, I feel like I’m praising and rejoicing… I FEEL SO FREE WHEN I’M DANCING!!!
Dancing faces you towards Heaven, whichever direction you turn. – Terri Guillemets
During my time in London, I attended some West African dance workshops. Most of the participants would be professional dancers, which had me intimidated at times! I quickly got over that though as I had so much fun learning new moves. I do think it’s a bit ironic how it took me joining a dance class at UCT for exchange students, or even moving to the UK, to be acquainted more profoundly with the beauty of African dance and its history.
I enjoy attending theatre productions where there is dancing. I was so elated to see some dancing at the end of the production King Kong: the originally Mzansi moves made the show come alive! And of course, watching the ceremony dance scenes in the Black Panther movie was spectacular! There’s something powerful about representation: it matters that we get to understand and take pride in the history of African dance. I want my children one day to have opportunities to appreciate umxhentso (of the Xhosa culture), indlamu of the Zulu people, Mohobela of the Basotho people, etc. as much as they do ballet and other Western dance styles!
I’ve included below a video clip of a live Manjani dance performance , similar to what UCT’s Maxwell Rani teaches in the African dance classes for exchange students. Do Enjoy!
To my dear readers from various parts of South Africa; the rest of the continent and beyond, please comment and share which dance styles are associated with your cultures. I’m keen to learn from you 🙂
Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing… Psalm 150:4a
A time to cry and time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4