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Deloitte Ignite 2012: Introduction to African dance

From dances celebrating coming of age to preparations for war, Judith Palmer explores traditional forms of African dance.

By Judith Palmer (Development Manager with IRIE! dance theatre)

30 August 2012 at 5.55pm | Comment on this article

Dance is a fundamental part of African culture. The characteristics of local communities and the things that those communities hold important – family lineage, the natural environment, religion and historic events – are integral to dance practice.  Dancing in Africa is a way of passing stories from generation to generation, ensuring that they are kept alive and relevant to communities today.

Traditional dances draw from a time when songs were sung by mothers tilling fields and pounding corn or fufu with their babies tied to their backs. Children learned melodies and rhythms from being so close to their mothers.

Dances such as Isukuti from the Western province of Kenya tell stories that celebrate birth and good harvests, and relay gossip about infidelity and events across the country.  The Muchongoyo dance of the Ngoni of South Africa is based on exercise drills undertaken by Zulu king Shaka’s arm. High kicks and foot-stomping are accompanied by manoeuvres in battalion formation.

Watch the Muchongoyo dance: 

In the Ga Adangbe region of Ghana the Tokwe dance is equivalent to a ‘Debutante’s Ball’:  young women who have come of age are presented to the local community for the prospect of marriage to the most eligible young men.  Prior to this, private ritual ceremonies take place and young women are taken from the village by elder women and taught how to look after their future homes and families. Once the training is complete, they are dressed in the finest cloth, expensive beads and scarves, which they wave in the air as a sign that they have come of age.

As African dance evolves, it is absorbing influences from around the world. Benin-born dancer and choreographer Germaine Acogny, founder of L’Ecole des Sables, a centre for African dance based in Senegal, is internationally renowned. Acogny’s style fuses classical and modern technique with her knowledge of traditional African dances.

Watch some dance choreographed by Germaine Acogny:

You can try out African dance for yourself at one the free workshops run by IRIE! dance theatre on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 September during Deloitte Ignite 2012. If you can’t make it,  have a look at the classes and events listed on the website of The Association of Dance of the African Diaspora. They list opportunities to watch or participate in African dance around the UK.

Judith Palmer is the Chair at The Association of Dance of the African Diaspora (ADAD) and Development Manager at IRIE! dance theatre.

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