Friday, March 5, 2010

From the Village to the Stage

First and foremost... the title of this blog post is taken from the research of the wonderful Dr. Zelma Badu-Younge. She gave a wonderful talk on this topic while I was in Ghana and has done extensive research on it.

I've started thinking about this talk a lot lately because I found it so interesting. I have been trained in dance, so I know how to choreograph a piece that is meant for the stage. I've even performed in African dance pieces. The difference? The focus... Taking west African (and lately for me, Brazilian) dance classes as well as performing these works, the focus is toward the audience. But, when you really get into these cultural dances, and if you are lucky enough to learn about it from locals, the dance (while it may be called the same) looks different and has a different intention behind it.

In Ghana, the dance we learned from the national company was something I was familiar with. It was like many other West African classes I had taken while in the US. What made West African dance magical was when we got to travel to a village and learn the dances from the community. The whole community worked to teach us the movement, rather than one teacher. And they didn't break down the steps in the way a dance teacher would... they just invited you to dance and you followed along. There was no focus on the audience, no concern for who was watching, it was a community, often in a circle, enjoying their culture, heritage and tradition.

I had a similar experience last week. I took a master class with Dance Brazil. I was very impressed. All of these dancers were crazy strong (and fit - I thought I might pass out when class ended...). After the class... we formed a circle and dancers entered to dance and do some Capoeira. Me, being a classic dancer, was struggling to dance without someone giving me the steps... sooooo wishing I wasn't like that. Basically, it turned into one big Brazilian party. SUCH fun! The next night we went to see the performance. It was totally different - still beautiful, but completely Americanized from what we had experienced the night before. I was in a modern dance show, that happened to include some more movement of the torso and a few capoeirsta moves... I missed the Brazilian party from the night before.

Dances change a lot when prepared for the stage. I understand why it is necessary to do this, but I do think a little bit of the magic gets lost. The American influence on cultural dances goes far and wide... from West Africa to Brazil.

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