African dance

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Members of the Kankouran West African Dance Company perform during a ceremony in the Rose Garden, White House in 2007

African dance refers mainly to the dance of Sub-Saharan Africa, and more appropriately African dances because of the many cultural differences in musical and movement styles. These dances must be viewed in close connection with Sub-Saharan African music traditions and Bantu cultivation of rhythm. African dance utilizes the concept of polyrhythm as well as total body articulation[1] yet many African languages have no word to define music.[2]

Dances teach social patterns and values and help people work, mature, praise or criticize members of the community while celebrating festivals and funerals, competing, reciting history, proverbs and poetry; and to encounter gods.[3] African dances are largely participatory, with spectators being part of the performance. With the exception of some spiritual, religious or initiation dances, there are traditionally no barriers between dancers and onlookers. Even ritual dances often have a time when spectators participate.[4]

Contents

Characteristics

There is no singular definition of African dance: Africa, a continent three times the size of the United States, is ethnically and culturally the most diverse on the planet. Though similar themes may be found throughout dances across the many countries and landscapes, each has its own history, language, song, background, and purpose and cannot be translated to another dance of the same culture much less another dance from somewhere else on the continent.

Society

African dance at Dakawa, Morogoro, Tanzania.

Traditional dance in Africa occurs collectively, expressing the life of the community more than that of individuals or couples. Early commentators consistently commented on the absence of close couple dancing: such dancing was thought immoral in many traditional African societies.[5] In all sub Saharan African dance there seems to be no evidence for sustained, one-to-one male-female partnering anywhere before the late colonial era when it was apparently considered in distinctly poor taste.[6] For the Yoruba, to give a specific example, touching while dancing is not common except in special circumstances.[7] The only partner dance associated with African dances would be the Bottle Dance of the Mankon People in the Northwest Region of Cameroon or the Assiko from the Douala people that involves interaction of Man and Woman and the way that they charm each other.

Rather than emphasizing individual talent, Yoruba dancers and drummers, for example, express communal desires, values, and collective creativity. Dances are often segregated by gender, reinforcing gender roles in children and other community structures such as kinship, age and status are also often reinforced.[8] Many dances are performed by only males or females, indicating strong beliefs about what being male or female means and some strict taboos about interaction. Dances celebrate the passage from childhood to adulthood or spiritual worship.[9] Young girls of the Lunda of Zambia spend months practicing in seclusion for their coming of age ritual. Boys show off their stamina in highly energetic dances, providing a means of judging physical health.[10]

Master dancers and drummers are particular about the learning of the dance exactly as taught. Children must learn the dance exactly as taught without variation. Improvisation or a new variation comes only after mastering the dance, performing, and receiving the appreciation of spectators and the sanction of village elders.[11] "Musical training" in African societies begins at birth with cradle songs, and continues on the backs of relatives both at work and at festivals and other social events. Throughout western and central Africa child's play includes games that develop a feeling for multiple rhythms.[12] Bodwich, an early (circa 1800) European observer, noted that the musicians maintained strict time (i.e. concern for the basic pulse or beat), "and the children will move their heads and limbs, whilst on their mother's backs, in exact unison with the tune which is playing."[13] The sounding of three beats against two is experienced in everyday life and helps develop "a two-dimensional attitude to rhythm".

Rhythm

The most widely used musical instrument in Africa is the human voice.[14] Nomadic groups such as the Maasai do not traditionally use drums yet in villages throughout the continent the sound and rhythm of the drum expresses the mood of the people. In an African community, coming together in response to the beating of the drum is an opportunity to give one another a sense of belonging and of solidarity, a time to connect with each other and be part of a collective rhythm of the life in which young and old, rich and poor, men and women are all invited to contribute to the society.[15]

Shoulders, chest, pelvis, arms, legs etc., may move with different rhythms in the music. Dancers in Nigeria commonly combine at least two rhythms in their movement, and the blending of three rhythms can be seen among highly skilled dancers. Articulation of as many as four distinct rhythms is rare.[5] They may also add rhythmic components independent of those in the music. Very complex movements are possible even though the body does not move through space.[1] Dancers are able to switch back and forth between rhythms without missing movements.[16]

The drumming represents an underlying linguistic text that guides the dancing performance but most meaning comes from nonverbal cues and metalanguage of the performers. The spontaneity of performance creates an impression of extemporaneity, yet it is not to emphasize the individual and bolster her or his ego but to preserve the community and mediate the audience and the performer interaction.[2]

Cultural functions

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The character of dancing observed by travelers to West Africa in the 19th century depended on context, the people, and the gender of the dancers. In general men used large body movements, including jumping and leaping. Women danced smaller movements with much use of "shuffle steps", the body in a bent position with "crooked knees". The circle dance predominated everywhere, sometimes solo dancers or musicians in the middle, sometimes couples. The ecstatic seizure was an essential element of ceremonial dancing, both religious and secular.[17] It is extremely important that the dancers maintain clarity.[5] One does not dance to go into a trance but to come out of a trance, to join a diversified assembly with a separate contribution, for dancing is a reminder that one is only part of the whole.[18]

Traditional dances often do not appear in isolation but are parts of broader cultural activities:

Townships created during the colonial period removed people, and their dance, from the traditional environment. Beer halls became community centers of sorts with drinking socializing, and dancing. Men still played the ngomas and the mukwas, but the dance took on sexual emphasis becoming something akin to bumping and grinding, almost violent in its urgency. Traditional dance clubs were created to protect the "purity" of the traditional dance and to regulate the dancers and musicians who performed on special occasions.[19]

Examples

Different parts of the body are emphasized by different groups. The upper body is emphasized by the Anto-Ewe and Lobi of Ghana. Subtle accent of the hips is characteristic of the Kalabari of Nigeria. In Agbor strong contraction-release movements of the pelvis and upper torso characterize both male and female dancing. The Akan of Ghana use the feet and hands in specific ways.[20]

Adumu, Maasai traditional dance.
Umteyo (Shaking Dance)
Mohobelo (Striding Dance)

Sampling list

(incomplete)

Kete Ghana/ Ashanti Zulu

Bibliography

References

  1. ^ African Dance. Kariamu Welsh 2004 Chelsea House Publishers pages 28 ISBN 0-7910-764155
  2. ^ Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone. University of Illinois Press. 1996. page 10,11. ISBN 0-252-022114
  3. ^ Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone. University of Illinois Press. 1996. page 9. ISBN 0-252-022114
  4. ^ African Dance. Kariamu Welsh 2004 Chelsea House Publishers page 35 ISBN 0-7910-764155
  5. ^ a b c Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone. University of Illinois Press. 1996. page 16. ISBN 0-252-022114
  6. ^ Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake. A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Edited by Julie Malnig. page 132. ISBN 978-0-252-03363-6 978-0-252-07565-0
  7. ^ Yoruba Dance - The Semiotics of Movement and Body Attitude in a Nigerian Culture. Omofolabo S. Ajayi. 1998. African World Press. page 34. ISBN 0-86542-562-6 ISBN 0-86543-563-4
  8. ^ Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience by Henry Louis Gates, Anthony Appiah 1999 Basic Civics Books page 556 ISBN 0465000711
  9. ^ African Dance. Kariamu Welsh 2004 Chelsea House Publishers pages 19,21 ISBN 0-7910-764155
  10. ^ Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience by Henry Louis Gates, Anthony Appiah 1999 Basic Civitas Books page 556 ISBN 0465000711
  11. ^ Zimbabwe Dance. Kariamu Welsh Asante. African World Press, Inc. 2000. page 60 ISBN 0-86543-492-1
  12. ^ Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone. University of Illinois Press. 1996. page 21. ISBN 0-252-022114
  13. ^ The Music of Black Americans: A History. By Eileen Southern. Edition: 1. W. W. Norton & Company. 1997. page 22. SBN 393 02156 4
  14. ^ Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone. University of Illinois Press. 1996. page 17. ISBN 0-252-022114
  15. ^ SEBASTIAN BAKARE, THE DRUMBEAT OF LIFE, WCC Publications, Geneva, Switzerland. 1997.
  16. ^ African Dance. Kariamu Welsh 2004 Chelsea House Publishers pages 34 ISBN 0-7910-764155
  17. ^ The Music of Black Americans: A History. By Eileen Southern. Edition: 1. W. W. Norton & Company. 1997. page 23. SBN 393 02156 4
  18. ^ African Rhythm and African Sensibility.John Miller Chernoff. 1979. p 150. ISBN 0-226-10344-7
  19. ^ Zimbabwe Dance. Kariamu Welsh Asante. African World Press, Inc. 2000. page 46 ISBN 0-86543-492-1
  20. ^ Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone. University of Illinois Press. 1996. page 13. ISBN 0-252-022114
  21. ^ African Dances of the Witwatersand Gold Mines. High Tracey. 1952. Cape Times Ltd. page 4
  22. ^ African Dances of the Witwatersand Gold Mines. High Tracey. 1952. Cape Times Ltd. pages 9, 10
  23. ^ African Dances of the Witwatersand Gold Mines. High Tracey. 1952. Cape Times Ltd. page 11.
  24. ^ a b Zimbabwe Dance. Kariamu Welsh Asante. African World Press, Inc. 2000. page 56 ISBN 0-86543-492-1
  25. ^ A Life for the Djembe - Traditional Rhythms of the Malinke. Mamady Keïta. 1999. Arun-Verlag. page 50. ISBN 3-935581-52-1
  26. ^ Zimbabwe Dance. Kariamu Welsh Asante. African World Press, Inc. 2000. page 74 ISBN 0-86543-492-1

External links

Listed in alphabetical order

http://www.uhurudancers.com/Uhuru Dancers - African Dance & Drum Company

DancePurposeCountry / Tribe of Origin
AdowaGhana / Ashanti
AgbajaGhana / Ewe
AgwaraCourtshipUganda / Alur
AkogoCourtshipUganda / Iteso
AmaggunjuUganda / Buganda
Ambas-i-bayCelebrationCameroon
BakisiimbaCelebrationUganda / Buganda
BikutsiCelebrationCameroon
BwolaCelebrationUganda / Acholi
Coupé-DécaléCelebrationCôte d'Ivoire
Ding DingUganda / Acholi
EkitaguriroUganda / Banyankole
EkizinoCourtshipUganda / Bakiga
EntogGazeUganda / Lugbara
GombeyHarvestSenegal
Kwassa kwassaCelebrationCongo (DRC)
LambanCelebrationGuinea, Senegal, Mali
LarakarakaCourtshipUganda / Acholi
MakossaCelebrationCameroon
MapoukaCeremonialCôte d'Ivoire
MwagaCourtshipUganda / Bagisu
Ndombolo (Soukous)CourtshipCongo (DRC)
OwaroUganda / Samia-Bugwe
SabarCelebrationSenegal/ [Wolof people]
SunuWeddingGuinea, Mali / Mandinka
TamenaibugaFriendshipUganda / Basoga
ZouglouCelebrationCôte d'Ivoire