Music and dance are indispensable, integral parts of African culture, in which people share social interaction. Dance is an expression, a celebration and a statement - a statement about the environment, leadership, strength, sexuality, war, family life, and many other things.
The dances and performances range from demonstrations of bravery and prowess, and war dances like the “Intore” of Rwanda, to humor. Some dances are rituals, including transitioning someone from one life stage to another, like “Emablu” in Uganda, or “Eunotu” by the Masai in Kenya.
Dance is used as therapy, determining fitness, and for educational purposes. The different dances encourage teamwork, require adherence to rhythm, and are often guided by a leader or soloist.
Many dances tell stories of the way of life of the people in a particular region. Colonial demarcations of Africa were insensitive to the homogeneity of people and cultures within a region, so it is common to find groups of people in different countries with similar dances.
Some flirting and courtship dances, such as The “Ntogoro” dance in Uganda or the mating dance of the young Sara people of Maro in Chad, include the “battle of the sexes” and sexual seduction, in which boys and girls are taught the art of seduction and display of physical beauty in a socially acceptable way.
These kinds of dances usually involve a girl vigorously shaking her waist and buttocks, and a boy advancing toward her, trying to encourage her to take him as a partner. However, this comes with strict rules on maintaining discipline while discovering their sexuality. Traditionally, boys and girls who engaged in unacceptable behavior before they were of age were punished.
Recently, I hosted Carol Saranich and Gino Frattallone on “Africa2U” at Acton TV, teaching them the body movements for the “Kizino”, which is the traditional dance of the Bakiga people. They were amazed at how the seemingly simple moves could be so strenous.
The Bakiga are stereotyped, as a tough and energetic breed of Ugandans, regardless of sex. The Kizino expresses these traits in its movements, use of space and firm structuring to the ground. This dance is also a great way for the Bakiga to warm up, since they live in the cold hills in Rwanda and western Uganda. It requires strength and stamina, and is characterized by stomping the ground while jumping to the tune of the drum rhythm. I often joke that Bakiga cannot live in wooden houses because their dancing would break the floors in no time.
African dances define the identity of the people in the community and they bring the community together. They are still relevant in the daily life of African people today.