West African Dance: I'm Only Dancing It Turns Me On
I won’t permit myself to say: “I can’t dance.” My parents drilled into me at an early age that negative programing is entirely avoidable and counter productive. I can’t lie either—I am committed to my own standard of impeccable integrity. Let’s just say, at this moment, I am an awkward, slow learner with two left feet, a stilted sense of rhythm, poor short-term memory and a spatial dyslexia that makes translating instruction—verbal or visual—a profound challenge.
My choice to attend West African dance classes with the Saakumu Dance Troupe from Ghana at the Slyboots School of Music in Buffalo required a vital mix of determined courage, robust self-esteem, an attitude of innocence and a healthy sense of humor. Now up the ante and recognize that I am almost twice the age of everyone else present.
The dances, performed to live drumming, are traditional, ceremonial dances from different regions of West Africa. The movements are synchronized, athletic and fluid. The hour and a half is both a physical and mental workout—and for me, it is inner core training. Core confidence—authentic self esteem—requires conditioning and practice. Harmless humiliation for liberation is my personal formula for success. I relish those situations that force me to test just how comfortable I can be being uncomfortable; to tap into an inner strength accessed only through vulnerability.
I am 43. Most people assume I am younger. Since I rarely wear makeup and do nothing to hide my grey hair, I attribute my youthful persona to innocence, joy and the absence of fear—all of which I cultivate through dance. It began in the privacy of my own home with only a mirror as witness. My first instructor, I relied on the mirror to show me where I held fear in my body and how judgement and self consciousness manifest in my movements. By watching myself dance I learned to recognize the physical imbalances between my left and right sides—both in alignment and ability—and to consider where else imbalance shows up in my life. Compassionate witness to my own criticism, I made space for innocence and discovered the transforming potential in dance; in the creative, physical expression of joy.
Joy is meant to be shared, is a contagion that grows in a group, so I left my private studio and consciously crossed a new threshold when I walked into the Slyboots School of Music. The Saakumu dancers radiate enthusiasm when they dance and teach with a spirit of generosity. Organically balancing a reverent respect for their tradition and talent with a playful lightheartedness, they welcome everyone and hold the space for you to show up with or without ability. The drumming unifies the gathering—a primal language of rhythm and resonance that evokes in my body an emotional longing for liberation. I sense my body knows how to move, it is only my mind that interferes. So while it takes courage and effort, I keep showing up.
I read years ago about a man who learned to read at age 94—fulfilled a desire, though it took him a lifetime. And why not? We have this lifetime. Our bodies and minds partners for life—why not learn to dance? Encouraged by my mind’s willingness, my grateful body gyrates with joy. Pleasure, not perfection, is the point. I’m only dancing—it turns me on.