Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Tell Me How You Dance and I'll Tell You Who You Are

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Tell Me How You Dance and I'll Tell You Who You Are

Article excerpt

In Africa, dance and the economy are intrinsically connected: the origins of the doople, the first often basic movements in African dance, lie in the motion of using the pestle

The great poet and president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Seaghor, said that by using the word "step," the Europeans had turned dance into an abstract game "to take man off the earth and project him into the sky." Africans prefer the expression "basic movement," because it implies a connection between the dancer and the earth. A famous verse by the same poet perfectly expresses this symbiotic relationship between human beings and the earth beneath them: "We are dancing people whose feet are revitalized by stamping them on the hard ground."

The first of the ten basic movements, which I have observed in all the regions and among all the peoples of Africa, is the doople. This is a composite term borrowed from Oueoulou, the secret language of the g1ae, a community of mask bearers belonging to the Weon people, who live in western Cote d'Ivoire. Gla (the singular of glae) means mask in the African sense of the term, in other words the costume, the accessories and those who wear them. I have chosen the language of this community of wisdom masks (in Africa, the mask is considered a living entity) because it is sacred, spiritual, divine and, as a result, belongs to no single group of people. Furthermore, the Weon (also known as the Guere) are the guardians of the only g1ae prayer, whose content clearly expresses the combined spiritual, technical and structural aspects of dance.

In Oueoulou, doo means mortar and ple, pestle. These are cooking utensils common to every part of Africa and occupy a central place in everyday life. The movement of a person using a pestle is the basis of African dance. …

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