You see them moving rhythmically across the dance floor, seemingly wrapped in one pulse, an array of African print fabrics, syncopated rhythms informing arms and legs, smiling faces, nurtured souls...
You think to yourself "I can do that," or you find your hips rocking to the groove of the drum and something inside you is being called to "get down," but you find an excuse not to move. You admire the grace, stamina and beauty, but you don't want to look silly attempting the moves of a continent that centuries of displacement has orphaned you from. But something draws you-something that feels like home.
Traditional African dance has a unique value to Africans of the Diaspora. Through traditional African dance we are informed about the culture that was seemingly lost to us. The movements tell our stories of old, allowing us to find our way to reconnection. The study of traditional African dance informs us on what was important to a people at particular moment in history. A graceful Lamban can transport one to a wedding ceremony in the Old Mali Empire or a Doudoumba can take you to a pre-battle Bambara ceremony of strength.
African dance is a soulful expression, an integral part of our culture. If you are of African descent and you dance, IT'S within YOU. You already do African dance. Dance is cultural expression and culture is not a stagnant notion or concept. It changes as ideas manifest and as people are exposed to different beliefs, notions and experiences.
There are thousands of traditional African dances done by thousands of groups of peoples that are done for many reasons that range from ceremonial to social. We connect to the deepest levels of ourselves and our ancestral past through dance. Some traditional African dances will never be able to be recovered, lost forever at the bottom of the Atlantic, or simply not done any longer having become outdated.
I was blessed to become familiar with African dance at an early age. My mom was in a South African Dance troupe called Izulu in the late 70's early 80's. My parents made it a point to infuse a strong sense of cultural identity and pride in me and my siblings. Along with cultural pride came a quest for historical information. A love for cultural exploration that African dance nourishes. There are times that one may take a class and not know what dance you did or what it was done for- its purpose, its symbolism. It is an opportunity to ask questions and expand your understanding of the motherland. So don't be afraid to ask!!! Some good questions to start with are: where does this dance originate? What is the name of the peoples that perform this dance? And why is it done?
There is something for everyone with teaching styles and values ranging from the traditionalist to contemporary- think coupe decaler, ndombolo. If you are interested in taking an African dance class do a simple web keyword search for "African Dance" yields a number of learning opportunities on sites like Africandance_nyc.com or Westafricandance.com. Many classes are also found out about through good old fashioned word of mouth. So put the word out there that you're looking.
African dance has many benefits physical and spiritual. African dance will improve your stamina, coordination, it will tone and strengthen your body. You will connect with other dancers and the music's transformative qualities may take you to another time and place.
Photo credit: 2thickskinned