The Development of African Dance

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The Development of African Dance There is not one single kind of African dance. There exist differences in the dances from different regions in Africa. however, there are similarities that run through them. According to Myrna Munchus-Bullock, instructor of black studies, there are styles and movements commonly shared among them that were probably important in creating understanding among different tribes. African dances are performed during celebrations and important rites of passage, because they have social and ritual significance in the context of African culture. The dances are used to invoke assistance and support from the spirits of ancestors, so that they mediate before the gods to grant a petitioner’s request. (Miller, 1992)
As with all kinds of dance, this art form is an expression of the history, belief, and values of a people. It is an expression of their aspirations and a way of transmitting to future generations an understanding of the ethnic sentiments and background of their people. Dance build bridges among cultures and nations. what could not be expressed verbally due to language barriers could be communicated through movement and gesture in a way that transcends mere conveyance of ideas. Peoples of different ethnicities and generations could relate to each other in a deeper level through dance and music.
There are important aspects of African dance and music that have evolved into the modern times and greatly influenced contemporary art forms worldwide. For example, rap music and hiphop dance, while they are very much part of contemporary art forms of the youth, are new versions of traditional African culture.
African dances are full of symbolism. One persistent aspect of African dance is a common dance-pattern that is depicted by a wide, sweeping circle around a group of musicians situated in the center. Despite historical changes to dance, the circle formation has proved to be very durable, despite attempts to break up the circle formation. James (2000) says that the moving circle that defines the inner space for the dancers is a symbol of the celebration of the culture’s distinctiveness, and this symbol could be traced through Africa’s history of political subjugation and social change. The pattern could also be found in dances in slave plantations in the New World, as well as the Sudanese and Ethiopian region of the upper Blue Nile. (p. 140)
The circle formation could is evident in the Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form which ritualizes movements from martial arts and games and combines these with dance. (Please see powerpoint presentation.) Capoeira was popularized as a Brazilian dance, but evidence supports that it is a folk dance form developed by African slaves from traditional African dances and rituals. (Beto Frota, 2007).
While African dance has influenced dance in other cultures, some authors such as Loots (2006) of South Africa are concerned with the influences of outside culture on African art forms. Trends described as globalisation, development, and modernization, which primarily have their major thrusts in the economy and politics, nevertheless have repercussions in African cultures in what is normally referred to as “fusion”. Some artists have no trouble with this, such as South African dancer Vincent Mantsoe. In generating his choreography, he fuses his training in the Graham Technique with his grounding in traditional African dance (such as the ritual dances which Mantsoe learned as a young boy at his mother’s side). But according to Loots, “fusion renders invisible any notion of social, economic and political context… This is very problematic if one seeks to make socially challenging contemporary dance work that speaks to your own country and continent.” (pp. 94-95) In short, outside influences could possibly dilute the pureness of the African dance and in the process lose its identity as an ethnic art form. To the end of preserving cultural identity, it is important to study and preserve African dance.
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