Monday, November 26, 2012

Got Rhythm?

I was going through my pictures from my trip to Africa and watching the videos we took and noticed that a big portion of the video is music and dance.

 It brought a question to mind. Have you ever wondered if black people are born with natural rhythm?

"Netos de Bandim" dance troupe of Guinea Bissau

Competing through dance is a widespread custom in West and Central Africa. In America, this tradition continued in "cutting" contests, challenge dances, Cakewalk contests, Break Dance rivalries, Jitterbug competitions, Step Dance shows, and other events
Balanta girls dancing in the village of Djati Guinea Bissau

African dance moves all parts of the body, in contrast to many European forms that rely mostly on arm and leg movement. Many African dances are performed by lines or circles of dancers.

The African dancer often bends slightly toward the earth and flattens the feet against it in a wide, solid stance. Compare this to traditional European ballet's upright posture, with arms lifted upward and feet raised up onto the toes.
Historically In Africa, most villages had a "dance master" who taught the members of the tribe from a very young age how to perform the various dances.
It is the sound of the music and the rhythms that are played that provide the heartbeat of the dance. The music and dance are considered inseparable, two parts of the same activity.
Balanta men playing instruments to accompany the dance

African dance is polycentric, which sets it apart from most other dance traditions in the world. Polycentric means that the dancer's body is segmented into separate areas of movement, with each area being able to move to different rhythms within the music. Known as "isolations" in choreographic terms, these moves are quite complex and difficult to master.
School children dancing in the Fula village of Quebo Guinea Bissau 
Randii (Guinea Bissau DNA traced descendant  - Balanta, Fula, Mende) dancing with Fulas
I (Guinea Bissau DNA traced descendan- 100% Fula ) joined in the dancing in Quebo

The 1500s saw the beginning of slave labor as Africans were brought to North and South America and the Caribbean. Hundreds of different African dance styles, from various ethnic groups, were merged together, along with styles of European dancing. Because of the importance of dance in the daily life of Africans in their homeland, many Africans that were enslaved continued to use dance as a way to keep their cultural traditions and connect with their home country.

Music and dance were critical elements of sacred rituals. Some of these dances and the ceremonies to which they belonged were so frightening that laws were passed prohibiting both dancing and drumming. The importance and spirit of dance were not stopped by these restrictions. Out of necessity this caused changes in the dances. African slaves found ways to adapt their dancing and continue their traditions in secret.  For example, since slaves were prohibited from lifting their feet, they created moves that included shuffling the feet and moving the hips and body.

Some of the dances the slaves created went on to become national dance crazes for all Americans, such as the Cakewalk, and later the Black Bottom and the Charleston.

Source: Love to Know Dance
History of Swing Dancing
 My aunt Mozelle, in the basement of my Uncle Slim's  house - Detroit. MI circa 1956
Growing up I remember my mother always singing or humming some tune under her breath (both my brother and I have picked up her habit). I also remember that we had a record player with lots of 33 1/3s, 45's and 78's around the house. This was common for most of the people in our neighborhood (it was after all, the Motor City in the 60's).  I can vividly remember the parties going on in the basement of my uncle's house. When my cousins and I were supposed to be asleep we would often sneak out of bed and sit at the top of the steps and watch them dancing. (We thought that was great fun and as I think back on it today....they probably knew we were there all along)

So, is it nature or nurture? What do YOU think?
Fact or Fiction: Black people are born with natural rhythm?
When one sees the prevalence of African-Americans in the music and dance industries, it can easily appear as though black people do have natural rhythm. In a nightclub or simply while listening to music, it is common to find people of African descent moving to the beat of the music in a way that appears innate. If a black person doesn’t have rhythm, it is a cause for shame or, potentially, a reference to “dancing like a white person.”
So is it fact or fiction?
It depends.
read the article:
Fact or fiction? 6 myths black people believe about themselves 


Anonymous said...

I say dancing is mostly the environment you are subjected to although some people have better body structure and coordination that would lend itself to having an easier time but singing is more heredity. Interesting subject.

Anonymous said...

Thank You sis and beutiful presentation! I'm a ptdna traced descendant of a Fula, Balanta and the Kru(Krahn) of Liberia mixed man.