Friday, July 08, 2016

The Fundamental Characteristics of African Dance

Index of the fundamental characteristics of African dance and derivatives. Derived from Welsh-Asante's seven characteristics of African dance in "Commonalities in African Dance: An Aesthetic Foundation" (1985).

1. Low to the earth
African cosmology regards the Earth as a benevolent world which sustains them, as compared to the European's place of trial to ascend from. Hence the characteristic of African dance is one which works with gravity, not one which seeks to defy it.

The 'Earth-Centred' Posture
With the ankles just inside one hip-width apart, and the body in a seated posture but inclined forward with knees flexed, this is a root position of West African dance. The posture places the dancer in dynamic equilibrium with gravity: energy from the dancer radiating downwards to the earth is in balance with the energy radiated from the earth upwards.

2. Undulating from the centre outward
(remarks to follow)

3. Polyrhythmic
(remarks to follow)

4. Emphasis on the pelvic girdle
(remarks to follow)

5. Body part isolations
Each body part tells its own story.
"All the elements of the music are displayed clearly in the body and nothing is left out." - Emily Willette (2012)

6. Whole foot touching the ground
(remarks to follow)
"We are the men of dance, whose feet draw new strength pounding the hardened earth." - Léopold Sédar Senghor (1945).
"stamping feet on the ground is a show of extreme joy" - Alphonse Tiérou (2000) 

7. Bent knees
(remarks to follow)
"dancing in a bent-over position with arms folded over the chest is a symbol of initiation" - Alphonse Tiérou (2000)

8. Texture
describes how dance functions as bodily (performative) conversation.
"Tell me how you dance and I'll tell you who you are." - Alphonse Tiérou (2000)
"When a body moves, it's the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I'll tell you who you are." - Mikhail Baryshnikov


Senghor, Léopold Sédar (1945). Prayer to Masks. In 'Songs of Shadow'. Original text: "Nous sommes les hommes de la danse, dont les pieds reprennent vigueur en frappant le sol dur." See excerpt: [Retrieved 08/07/16]

Tiérou, Alphonse (2000). Tell Me How You Dance and I'll Tell You Who You Are. The UNESCO Courier. October 2000, Page 45. See: [Retrieved 08/07/16]

Welsh-Asante, Kariamu (1985). Commonalities in African Dance: An Aesthetic Foundation. In "African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity" edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Kariamu Welsh-Asante. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Willette, Emily (2012). The Africanist Aesthetic in American Dance Forms. [Retrieved 18/06/2016]

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