The Energy of Dance

September 15, 2015

 We dance, therefore we are.  

-African Proverb

Dance, in the African aesthetic system, is not a singular activity. Rather it is a multidimensional social event. To speak of dance, in this context, is to also speak of music. It is also to speak of community because dance is a communal event in the African context. Dance is filled with meaning and reference, with homage and signification, with joy and sheer exuberance. During a discussion following Boston premiere of the film, Sabar, Life is a Dance, a question was asked about the relationship between dance and drums.  Chiké Nwofia, producer of the film, explained, “Dance is a conversation, . . .there is a dialogue between the drummer and the dancer, . . .” which is why “no two performances are the same.” It is “an inseparable relationship between the drum, between the dance, and between the people,” Professor Robert A. Bellinger added. Their discussion about the interactive energy between music, movement and community follows.

When the rhythm changes, so must the dance. 

-African Proverb

The place where the conversation between the dancers, the drummers and the community is most evident is at a tànnibéer or sabar party. These are celebratory, communal events in which all members of the community may participate, or have their say. In the following clip, filmed at a tànnibéer in Medina, Dakar, Senegal in June 2008, these conversations are well illustrated. Some of the elements to be attentive to are:

-the dancers entrance into the circle

-the dancers style and technique

-the dancers interaction with the drummers

-the dancers interaction with the community

-the response of the community to the dancers

To dance is to be healed, reconciled and restored.

African Proverb

Dancers, because of their ability to illustrate the rhythms of the drum, the memories of the collective past and the beauty of the community, have a significant role. When dancers who do this well enter the circle, it is a special moment. To see a dancer work their magic in various settings over the years, one becomes familiar with that dancers nuances and begin to anticipate their special moves.

This final clip is of one dancer, Colé Mbasse Seck, demonstrating her skills in several gatherings. The first section of the clip is from December 2008 to the rhythm Kaolack; the second section is from August 2005, where she enters the circle dancing Ceebu Jenn, which is later changed to Bara Mbaye; the third section is from July 2006 to Bara Mbaye. Watching the three performances you will get a sense of how this dancer interacts with the drummers and the community. But even as you begin to recognize the dancers particular style, you will also recognize that no two performances of a dance are the same.