Update from Qudus' blog

Sep 8, 2010

My trouble with Contemporary African dance

Dance in Africa has since been expressed in many interpretive styles and techniques, but now, in this post-modern day, there are two types of contemporary dance in contemporary Africa; the European-inspired and the non-European-inspired. The former is also known as contemporary African dance while the latter is simply contemporary dance. This magical aggregation takes me back to the wonders of my discovery of a certain elementary mathematical magic, which says anything multiplied by one remains itself, but anything multiplied by zero is zero. DILEMMA! So no matter the size, 1000 X 1 is still one thousand, while 1000000 X 0 evaporates to zero. Just like mathematics, what then characterizes this contemporary dance makeover is not so much in the style, nor subject, nor audience, but a fundamental idea of Africa and the age and circumstance at which it exists.

Contemporary dance in Africa – in my definition – is not a specific dance technique, but a genre of dance performance that employs systems and methods that could be traced to traditional Yoruba-total-theatre of the 50s (also known as Yoruba folk opera). Contemporary dance however, draws on here-and-now influences, as well as newer philosophies of movement that depart from traditional dance techniques, by deliberately omitting structured forms and movements or NOT.

African dancers, the other dancers

More than a word or mere geographical expression, Africa has become an enigma, a place, a succession of depressing event and a human condition which makes dreams and hopes evaporate to zero. Africa has since turned to Europe’s latest invention which has with time, incessantly distorted from a place of fantasy to exotic beings, from the future project to a shore of material civilization, landscape of contrasting images and extraordinary experiences. Now that these plenty fantasies are disappearing as our communal history come of age, and gone are those days; those days that the contemporary African never saw, those days that is never part of our contemporary history books, those days when Europe never existed in our narratives, I’m talking about those days we let to be ruined by European sophistication, re-made by Europeans and significant for the persuasion of the European thinkers, students and visitors.

The choice of African in contemporary “African” dance is therefore, with a touch of derision and as well canonical. Aside the fact that it suggests a honest geographical location and a common historical narrative, it also makes the unforgiving blunder of plunging into an ideology that thrives on reductionism, which seek to reduce the African peoples, all 1 billion of us - no matter our various cities, nations, cultures, religions and other rhetoric of identity that isolates us from one another, it doesn’t matter, it suggests that – we can all be shrivelled into a geographic, moral and cultural pod. Many thanks to such aggressive manner of addressing the other, now it is possible for artistes and other creative minds to imagine from Europe – and other infected corners of the globe – a factual or fictitious African personality, an African scenario, an African dance or an African mode of living, and be entirely understood without consequences. Before I am misread, I distinguished between Africanism and Pan-Africanism.

It was during my days at the circus school in Chalons en champagne that I initially came into a direct contact with such aggression tainted by a reversed Afrocentric prejudice. Between 2001 and 2006, I travelled widely throughout Europe – especially in France – as a dancer in Heddy Maalem’s company. The feeling that gets to one during those period of tours were somewhat ennobling, for the relationship I had with people and western culture were timed and based on an artificial construct, which I will later realize fully and totally despise when I will decide to stay in France for my studies. I found it rather too difficult to grasp the point or the least sense, behind any individual, claiming to have a legitimate knowledge of who I am, even, before taking time to meet me, though it never bothered me, for I couldn’t just claim responsibility for other people’s ignorance. As a result, it took me a long time to eventually realize that rather than ignorance as I had dismissed it to be, it was in fact, power that was at play in première degré.

The Power of stereotyping

In today’s world, supremacy is mostly associated with knowledge than it is with military or economic power. Knowledge in this term therefore, means rising above immediacy, expanding beyond space and time, beyond the self and the local, into the foreign and distant. Africa, as the object of such knowledge becomes intrinsically vulnerable to analysis and risks to be repeatedly analysed through such misdirection; that even in 4000AC, Africa will still be referred to as the future continent, this “Africa” then becomes a fact which, with time transforms itself into a standard image. Hence, to have such prejudice over me is to dominate me and have authority over me. To have such authority suggests that I have less autonomy over my identity and individual destiny. It will become extremely difficult to analyse – or approach – my works as an artiste without referring to Africa or a colonial time past, but on the other hand, my contemporaries who happens to be Europeans don’t talk about their reality and situation in relation to colonialism, slavery or other vices in our shared historical inheritance.

I found it rather curious and snobbish that all other guises are often ignored, all other forms of insular reflection and whatever that could have possibly condition the being of our works, ignored. The experience of growing up with different cultures at parallels, being educated at the borders of a world at war, and conflicting interests. Growing up at a period when pop culture and globalization is getting to its immorality peak. All these don’t tend to matter. Hence that trademark: African, in contemporary “African” dance is pregnant, pregnant with ambiguous meanings, pregnant with a non forgiving gaze of the “other”, impregnated by an uninformed self appraisal, misguided by the early foreign eyes that saw it, told its story and showed its story to the world through rational caricature, and in a funny way we in turn see ourselves through such portraits.

This consciousness will from onward augment my need for a distinguished identity, with a peculiar voice, my personal history must be understood – at least by myself – and be rationalized within the context of a larger historical and social experience. Until then, anything I multiply myself with, will still remain my-whole-self, for every other thing is ONE. I require no alibi for my un-civilization which might appear un-African.


  1. love it!!! thank you for posting this!!


  2. It has been great reading your post. Your views are on point and shared.

  3. the post is interesting but it is as though you were born to call a cup a plate. going with your first relation of dance to mathematics means that you don't see or notice the difference between art and mathematics (sciences). one may know that number 1 will remain 1 in mathematics, but that does not mean it is that same in other areas of study or expression. every discipline has its rules and reasons for its creation however similar it may seem to another. if you went to all dance educations which I suppose you never did, you would learn that African contemporary dance is totally different from contemporary dance but have a few elements in common like many other dance styles. It is like saying that if John looked so much Jonas that you are right when you say that it is one person. There is always a reason why different things are classified the way they are. thank you for posting!

  4. I totally agree with your comments. Contemporary African dance is far different from contemporary dance. Contemporary Africand dance: Its idea, content, personality, technique and meaning are drawn from African dance practice. It's also demands to rise above its society background to accept companionable methods and teaching techniques from different dance styles (like you have said) and dance composition developed within Africa and in other continents, which makes it effectively, experimental, eclectic and wide-ranging than the old traditional dance forms that represents cultural values which are recognized as a life form of a society and holds on to specific customs.
    Thanks for your clarification
    And to him on his post.