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4 Things you need to Know

While African Dance forms have been around for countless years over the past few decades there has been Brenda Dixon-Gottschild refers to as The Diaspora Dance Boom click for the read

As a practitioner, researcher, educator, and performer with close to three decades of commitment, I offer you these 4 need to know before you consider teaching(Neo-Traditional) West African forms:

  1. Africa is a continent.

  2. Teach what you know

  3. Know the history

  4. Know the music

Africa is a continent.

This might seem obvious to some but it's not to others. It would be kinda odd to say " Hey class today we are going to learn North American Dance forms", so why do people say African Dance? I can think of several reasons but the purpose of this post is to be solution-oriented so I offer you this information. Africa is a continent of more than 50 countries, more than 3000 ethnic groups, and more than 1,000 languages. If dance is an extension of culture then there are 1000's of cultures on the continent of Africa which means there are thousands of dances. Specificity could be more respectful, beneficial, and useful. Specificity can come in the way of the region or ethnic group for example North Africa, West Africa, Senegal, Mali, Cassamance, Wassalon, Diola, Akan

Teach what you know

In the word of the epic Martha Graham: It takes ten years, usually, to make a dancer. It takes ten years of handling the instrument, handling the material with which you are dealing, for you to know it completely.

It is inappropriate to believe that you have mastered a dance form after only a handful of classes. And even if after a year of intense study you gained enough knowledge to be comfortable in dance class, this does not always mean you are ready to be an instructor. I am a strong believer in dancers as cultural ambassadors, that serve as the preserver of knowledge. You must have an adequate grasp of the knowledge before you adequately pass it along to others.

Know the history

Very little is created in a vacuum. The dances didn't just spring from nothing. Dances are directly impacted/inspired by objects, political and social events. Inspiration could be a simple the blades of a fan or obtaining national independence. Continuing the idea of cultural ambassadors, as a dance instructor you have the ability to preserve the movement technology of society. As a dance instructor, you stand in the role that functions to enlighten others. Learn and share the history of the dance form in order to lessen chances of oversimplification, erasure, and exoticizing.

Know the music

The rhythm becomes the driving element that fuels the dancer and the movements are locked into the call of the drum.

This line is taken from the Brooklyn Academy of Music article on the West African Guinean dance KouKou but holds to true to many other forms see here for full article

At a minimum, you should be able to sing the rhythm with an understanding of how movement aligns with the rhythm. There is a deep connection between the music and the movement as they are both inspired by the society of origin and as a result, they inform one another. In my classes, I compare this connection to that of conversation. So to borrow from the example given KouKou is a language in which the movement and music communicate with one another. The term vernacular dance might also help to describe this concept.

so what 4 things do you need to know before teaching African Dance:

  1. Africa is a continent.

  2. Teach what you know

  3. Know the history

  4. Know the music

Hope you enjoyed this quick read!

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- Mya

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