Friday, July 08, 2016

The Senses of African Dance

Index of the thematic principles which can be found at the core of African dance and derivatives. Derived from Welsh-Asante's seven "senses" of African dance in "Commonalities in African Dance: An Aesthetic Foundation" (1985).

1. Ephebism
(from the Greek 'ephebos' εφηβος referring to the adolescent male)
A youthful energy (not commonly found in European ballet). "Old people dancing with youthful vitality are valued examples of ephebism in Africanist cultures." (Gottschild, 2001.)

2. Polycentrism
Literally meaning "of, or having, many-centres", it is the idea that movement may be initiated from and maintained in any part of the body. Hence the preponderance of body-isolated movement. Polycentrism is a requisite for the embodiment of polyrhythm. Emily Willette (2012) says of African dance, "All the elements of the music are displayed clearly in the body and nothing is left out."

3. Polyrhythm
Dave Atkinson defines polyrhythm as "a combination of two or more rhythms played simultaneously while moving at the same linear tempo". Farris Thompson (1974) describes his experience of the bodily expression of polyrhythm (via polycentrism) thus, “my hands and my feet were to keep time with the gongs, my hips with the first drum, my back and shoulders with the second.”

4. Curvilinearity
"refers to the curved shape, figuring or structuring of artistic products as well as within the positioning of bodies. It’s directly related to two core concepts in African societies: continuity and fertility." (Afreaka, 2013)

5. Dimensionality
Extrasensory feelings and emotions. "Asante's (sic) (1994) dimensionality refers not to "measured dimension" but to "perceived dimension," a "something extra that is present in harmony with the music, dance, or sculpture" (Caponi, 1999).

6. Epic Memory
The dancer draws upon folkloric knowledge and cultural histories to imbue the dance with spiritual and emotional meaning, thereby making a 'universal' (read 'primal') connection with the audience.

7. Holistic Unity (Wholism)
Unity arises out of the circle-solo dance format where there is a communal circle and a soloist leader or couple. Members of the circle: drummers, singers/choristers, dancers-in-waiting, audience members; all participate. Says Welsh-Asante (2010) "Participation is anticipatory and responsive. In order for an event to be successful, everyone must be fully involved. Silence and stillness are not valued in the African performance arena. In fact, to be silent is to be critical in a negative way and shows disdain and contempt for the performance."

8. Repetition
"Most African composition is based on the repetition of a musical unit. It is that repetition that holds together the other musical units of the composition. These other unit are structured with great freedom relative to the first unit, producing their own rhythmic pattern that coincides only occasionally with that of the other units and with the basic pulse. For example, in the mbira music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, a repeated pattern is established by the interaction of various parts, and the musician develops an improvisation out of this core pattern." ('Music in Africa' 2015)

"Without an organizing principle of repetition, true improvisation would be impossible, as an improviser relies upon the ongoing recurrence of the beat... That the beat is there to pick up does not mean that it must have been metronomic, but merely that it must have been at one point begun and that it must be at any point 'social' - i.e., amenable to re-starting, interruption, or entry by a second or third player or to response by an additional musician." (Snead, James 1981)


Afreaka (2013). "Africanist Dance Aesthetics: Societies in Movement". [Retrieved 19/06/16]

Atkinson, Dave (????). What is a polyrhythm [Retrieved 08/07/2016].

Caponi, Gena Dagel (1999). "Signifyin(g), Sanctifyin' & Slam Dunking: A Reader in African American Expressive Culture" Editor. Amherst : Univeristy of Massachusetts Press.

Farris Thompson, Robert (1974). "African Art in Motion". Los Angeles : University of California Press.

Gottschild, Brenda Dixon (2001). Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance. In "African Roots/American Cultures: Africa in the Creation of the Americas" Edited by Sheila S.Walker. pp.89-103.

'Music of Africa'. In "New World Encyclopedia" (2015) [Retrieved 16/06/16]

Snead, James (1981). On Repetition in Black Culture. Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 15, No. 4, Black Textual Strategies, Volume 1: Theory (Winter, 1981), pp. 146-154.

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.

Welsh-Asante, Kariamu (2010). World of Dance: African Dance, Second Edition. NY : Infobase Publishing

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

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