All about African Dancing
An integral part of every day life

Dance in Africa is not a separate art but forms part of everyday life. Unlike many dances of the west, African dance is not detached from the lives of the people. It is a spontaneous release from the people and translates everyday life experiences into movement.

Based upon the spoken language, African dance is a source of communication through which it is possible to demonstrate emotions, beliefs, everyday life activities and other reactions through movement. Love, hatred, joy, sorrow, courage, fear, and all other emotions are expressed through rhythmic movements.

The people dance the sowing of the seed and the harvest, puberty rites, warfare, hunting, birth, death and life after death. There is the rain dance, dance of the sun, dance of strong intelligent offspring, courtship dance, marriage dance, etc. Some dances have particular meanings or stories behind them; others are named after the drumming rhythm or the instrument (eg. kpanlogo is usually danced to the kpanlogo drum whilst fume fume denotes the sound of the rhythm).
Within the African community everybody dances. There are special dances for certain members of the clan; there are dances for women only or men only or the elderly or the young. These individual dances are closely associated with ritualistic rites of passage.

Each country of Africa has many ethnic groups, each of which has a different language, history and tradition.  Music and dance reflect these identities so that every tribe in Africa has its own style and interpretations of dances and rhythms. 

Many traditional dances have a particular costume that enhances movement. African dance has traditional roots, which implies that it is creative and not ‘written down’. Traditional dances are developing all the time and this is particularly true of West African dance. 

In recent years, West African dance has begun to be performed out of its original context e.g. in hotels, theatres and national ceremonies with the 1 st West African performing groups visiting Europe in the 1970s.  Since then, some West African groups have been influenced by ballet, and many West African countries now have their own national dance ensembles.

Each body part tells its own story

Aicha african dance with Afrotonic - inspiring movementOne of the main differences between African dance and dances from other parts of the world is that African dance is polycentric. This means that the dancer’s body is not treated as one single central unit. Instead, it is divided into several centres or segmented areas of movement with each area being able to move to different rhythms within the music.

In most other dance styles the dancer’s body moves as a whole throughout the dance. In African dance, the different centres of the dancer's body creates complex movements that move in conjunction with one another. For example in African dance there is a disconnection of the chest and hips which can move independently while the arms swing back and forth and the trunk of the body is not treated as an immovable, separate entity. This is why learning to isolate each part of the body in the movement (shoulders, arms, chest, pelvis, legs) is one of the 1 st steps to learn African dance and forms part of all Afrotonic classes.

Connecting with Earth and the Community

African dance is very primal and low to the ground, connecting the dancer with the earth, which they believe gives them life. This is why in most African moves the knees are bent so the dancer can get his energy from the ground and leap high without wearing himself out. African dance forms are strong and vital with a feeling of dynamic thrust and resistance. Ranging from the walk and all its variations, the techniques of the African dance embrace the leap, the hop, the skip, the jumps, falls of all descriptions and turns which balance the dancer at the most precarious angles with the ground.

African dance traditionally involves a group of people dancing to a choreography together and it is by nature participatory: the role of performer and audience is interchangeable since both are usually members of the same community. This is why African dance is a great tool for social cohesion in our modern world and helps connect people together despite their differences.

Afrotonic Roan in Senegal with the future generation of african drummers and dancersAfrican dance encourages people of all origins and ages to join in the fun - the drums do not care what colour your skin is, nor if you wear nappies or wrinkles...

Drums: the heartbeat of African dance

African dance always follows the rhythm of the drumbeat. Unlike contemporary dance or other dance forms that can live without music or be disconnected from the rhythm of the music, African dance cannot exist without the heartbeat of the drums. In African dance, the drum helps to set the mood, gives energy to the dancers and brings everyone together as a community. The drum talks to the dancers and in the case of solo improvisations, follows the dancers. This is why Afrotonic classes are conducted as often as possible with live drumming and why learning the drums helps to better understand the rhythms and improve the dancing.

African dancing – the freedom to express yourself

Roan African dance express yourself AfrotonicAfrican dance is no different to jazz or contemporary dance in the sense that the dancer needs to learn a particular technique and practice to become good at it. However, unlike many other dance forms, African dance leaves room for self expression and enables each individual to follow his own ‘body language’. Every innovation and creation involves a thorough knowledge of technique which can then be ‘forgotten’ in order to allow spontaneous personal variations - African dance is a perfect example of this.

The essence of real, traditional African dance is indeed continual creation and solo improvisations are a big part of traditional African dance, enabling each member of the community to express his own life story or feelings through movement.

Everyone can dance to African music. The idea is to feel the music and express yourself. Let yourself go. It’s also an incredible and fun way to have a great body workout!

If you fancy learning the freedom of African dancing, why not have a go at Afrotonic Dance & Fitness Classes