By Sarah Sadian
In African dance you stump your feet and move your buttocks!
In the long years of my stay in Africa, e.g. Zanzibar, I have only twice come across somebody who could not sing, and only once across somebody who did not feel the rhythm!
Ali and I have each ordered a glass of Coke, and are watching the first guests who arrive. A few young men are already dancing, but it is only the beginning of the evening. Three Rastafarians have gathered at the bar, smoking and drinking beer, their dreadlocks one squeezed under a huge crochet hat in green, yellow and red – the colors of the Rastafarians – the second letting them hang down, and the third gathering them in a ponytail. Their hair is their pride, and it looks quite impressive on their thin bodies.
A young woman enters, holding a little boy on her hand, perhaps two years old. I wonder why he is not asleep at this time of the night, but suddenly he tears himself loose from his mother’s hand and runs to the center of the dancing floor. In his shining fancy costume, he begins to dance. The rhythm seems to be in his blood as he imitates the smooth movements he has observed in the adults and elegantly winds his little body, shaking his buttocks and twisting his feet as he stumps them on the ground. Immediately a circle forms around the little young man, even I can no longer sit on my chair and join the group. We clap our hands and encourage the him with screams, moving around him and joining his steps like a choir.
The mother is chatting with a few men at the side, but suddenly becomes aware that her son has taken his freedom, and comes to fetch him in a mixture of amusement and anger.
The dance has begun. We move our hips and buttocks, keeping the upper part of the body straight, only occasionally bending forward or to the side. African dance connects to the earth. It has its origin in the stumping sound of the mortar, and from there in the Ngoma, the drum. Men dance with men, men dance with women. Women dance with women, or people just dance for themselves. Everyone dances.
As the atmosphere heats up, the band plays faster, and the dancers get closer to each other. They cross their legs into each other while shaking their buttocks forth and back, going down close to the ground and again up. The longer we dance, the more the dance begins to look like a fertility dance. Nobody seems to feel the false shame that would be taught to a person of another culture already in early childhood, sexuality is a natural part of life, it has to be enjoyed and lived out.
Ali has meanwhile come to the dancing floor. He grasps me and shakes his hips into the space between my legs, and I wind myself around him while we go down and up again. Then he lets go of me, and we stump our feet forth and back into the ground. Earth and life are naturally one, and how would one not forget about poverty, about the struggle of daily life, if he is drawn into the rhythm, entranced by the joy of this rich nature, of which he becomes part as he connects to the earth!
A group of amateur acrobats cause the others to form a ring, and as they finish their performance, each of the dancers enters the middle and gives his own performance of acrobatics, encouraged by the cheering crowd. Automatically we change, each in his turn, then form a long queue and dance all in the same step across the dancing floor.
The band plays a Reggae, and we go back to dance in couples… It is announced as the last dance, but the band will add a song or two as the dancers leave the floor, putting their arms across each other’s shoulders, mostly in couples…