I’d Rather be Dancing African Folk Dances

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I’d Rather be Dancing African Folk Dances

At Phoenix International Folk Dancers, we only have two African dances in our repertoire. The first is Bela Kawe, a dance that originated from West African and Caribbean culture. The dance tells a story of two women who are having a friendly competition for a man’s attention. The first part of the dance represents the women trying to get the man’s attention, while the last part represents the warding off of any bad spirits that may be standing in the woman’s way. There are many different versions of Bele Kawe. This video is the closest to the way we dance it, but in our (Phyllis Weikert’s) choreography, the handwork is different; the women flourish their skirts, and the men place their hands on their own back pockets. They all clap on the fourth beat of each of the turns.

The other dance we do is Pata Pata, from South Africa. If you are as old as I am, you may remember when Miriam Makeba introduced the song and the dance in the mid 1960s.

Pata Pata means “touch, touch.” If you watch the backup dancers, at one point they pat various parts of their bodies. The version that PIFD does is decidedly less sensuous. Our version is often taught to school children, and it looks like this:

The only problem with the way we do Bele Kawe and Pata Pata is that they are white-people versions of African dances. What do African dances look like when they are danced by real African dancers?

Watch this performance by the Ama-Zebra Folk Dance Ensemble from South Africa:

African dances for the most part are vigorous and athletic. But some are graceful. Drums figure big in African dance music. Here are ten more dances:

The Tucson Folk Dance Club does an authentic Ghanaese dance, Pondogo:

Now it’s your turn. International folk dancers out there, does your group do any African dances? Do you have any African dances on YouTube? Please share in the comments below.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

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