Sorry if I disappoint, but this post is not about my romantic past. It is about another kind of passion: dance. I have recently resumed Senegalese dance classes with the Kai Fech group. I haven’t done dance classes for about 20 years, so like reconnecting with other kinds of lost love, it’s a challenge. But a joyful one.
I have been passionate about dance ever since I can remember, since the long ago days when I twirled around our lounge room to my Dad’s records of Swan Lake and Saint Saens March of the Animals. Living in a small country town it was hard to find dance classes but I made do with whatever short term classes became available: Ballet, Scottish Country and Highland dance, even Jazz one year. But the most exciting dance discovery of my teens was when an enlightened – or possibly hippy, but at any rate very cool – teacher introduced my PE class to the truly astonishing beat of African drummers.
Looking back, I suspect it was the music of Nigerian master drummer Babatunde Olatunji. Or something quite similar. It doesn’t really matter who it was, it was the music – and the dance style – I had been waiting for all my life.
For a few short and blissful weeks, that teacher had us all stomping around the school oval to complex, powerful rythms. It made a welcome change from netball, I can tell you. I’m not sure how authentic the style was, but my dim recollection is that it was earthy, dynamic and rythmic. These are all qualities I’ve since learned are characteristic of African dance, so she must have had some idea of what she was doing.
Those PE classes were the first time in my life I had contact with any remotely genuine African culture. All I knew of Africa at age 15 was what I’d learned in social studies classes about tribes that ate only blood and milk, wildlife documentaries of course and possibly a bit about early hominid fossils (thanks to Dad’s armchair interest in archaeology). All a bit exotic really. Well, so was the music and dance. But it also felt much more real. I connected to it intensely, physically. But after our PE classes moved on (or back) to more conventional activities, I didn’t hear or dance to African music again for a good ten years more. Sob. I missed it. I didn’t know where to find it. At long last, it found me. More on that in a future post.
If it hadn’t been for that deep sense of connection I have felt to African music and dance, my life would be totally different today. I probably would never have met my son’s father. I wouldn’t now have our gorgeous boy, or all of our wonderful extended Ghanaian family. I probably would never have travelled to Africa. My comfort zone may never have stretched very far. I don’t know if I’d have the same passion to end racism, or the same commitment to figuring out, and helping others figure out, how to build and strengthen cross-cultural relationships. Well, maybe I would. My passion for social justice isn’t necessarily connected to my desire to dance. And I probably would still have had a great life. But I’m really glad I had this one!