Ten years ago, while living in Bermuda, I took an African dance class. It was one of the courses the Ministry of Community, Culture and Sports offered in the bi-annual (I think) community education program. This thing the Ministry did was great by the way! You could take courses in just about anything, from basic plumbing to foreign languages to investing to sailing to various kinds of dance! and ALL the courses were around $50 (for a 2 – 3 month course). Its not often that governments do things purely for the benefit of the average person and I’ve always admired the Bermuda government for this particular thing.
But anyway, I had decided, after living in Bermuda for almost 3 years and never once hearing of this program, to sign up for African dance. Never took dance (of any kind) before and there were other dance classes available but African dance spoke to me! It winked and said “you know you want to try this so why you fighting me, eh?”. The other dance classes just gave me a side eye and didn’t say a word. I’d always wanted to learn African dance so I suppose, given the differing “welcomes”, it was a no-brainer. So I registered, paid my $50 and me and my two left feet and went to this class.
Didn’t know then that I would join the dance group that held the class, the Bermuda African Dance Company (BAD), and that relationship would be my biggest source of blessing for the rest of my time there. Didn’t know that, within a year, I’d be performing with that dance company at events around the island. Didn’t know my connection to African dance and this group in particular would feed my spirit so intensely that, after a car accident that left me with a cracked rib and fractured ankle I’d wobble (on crutches!) to the bus stop, ride the bus 30 minutes to get to dance class, wobble (on crutches!) up the long road and driveway to the school’s dance room where the African dance classes were held, and insist I was healed enough to dance. (The dance director put me to sit among the men drumming and told me to keep my tail there until the class was done… I guess someone had to be the voice of reason).
That first class, I was nervous as jooks! What was I thinking?!?! These people ALL look like they came out of the womb dancing, and even though the ad said no previous dance experience was required I was sure they’d take that bit out once they saw me dance… or attempt to. Part of me wanted to run but I’d paid my money and just couldn’t back out now.
That first class they taught us Gahu, “a dance from Ghana” (that’s how Askale, the company’s director, described it). At first, it was a good pace, not too fast, not too slow. Nice. After about 15 minutes I thought “hmmm, not bad for two left feet! I can definitely get used to this.”. Then Askale, that little woman with a loud yet squeaky voice said “ok now we’re gonna try it at the regular speed”. Umm, ‘cuse me? “Regular speed”? So… um… what, exactly were we doing all this time?!?! You see, they slowed Gahu down for us newbies, they said. Didn’t want to overwhelm us, they said. We’ve got the hang of it now so we can try it at full speed, they said. Folks, for you to understand the cerebral and body shock that is Gahu at full pace you should probably know that, according to Master Drummer Ruben Agbeli, Gahu, this “dance from Ghana”, is actually an adaptation of kokosawa, a much older drum and dance style from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The people from Ghana took kokoksawa and created Gahu by INCREASING THE TEMPO TO MORE THAN DOUBLE ITS ORIGINAL SPEED! So, after learning “slow” Gahu for 15 minutes, we took on “regular” Gahu. Lawwwd poopa!!!
At the end of the class I was beat! Felt like an old raggedy shoe with the sole hanging on for dear life! All kinda body parts I didn’t know I had were saying “you do realize you’re going to regret this tomorrow morning, right?!”. Yet in addition to all that, I felt revitalized! I just knew, then, that I would be back, and it was at that time that African dance claimed its place of honour in my heart and spirit. Nothing moves me like the sound of the drum! No other dance feels more alive, for me, than African dance.
What I didn’t know then, and only occurred to me today for some reason (well, not
“for some reason”, my ancestors brought it to my attention today because… well, that’s just how they roll) was that this dance, the VERY FIRST AFRICAN DANCE I learned, this “dance from Ghana” actually comes from a group of Africans I am directly descended from – the Ewe! (the Ewe actually are in Ghana, Togo and Benin). I didn’t know of that ancestral connection 10 years ago and didn’t remember my first African dance class when I became aware of my Ewe ancestral connection a couple years ago… but today, “for some reason”, one connection met the other in my consciousness and I’m humbled at how deep this is.
My ancestors lead me to that dance class 10 years ago and ensured THEIR dance would be my introduction African dance. That first dance could have been any number of other dances. During my time with BAD I learned more dances from the various peoples of Nigeria and Guinea than Ghana in general or the Ewe in particular (as a matter of fact, Gahu is the ONLY Ewe dance the company knew!). Coincidence, you say? No such thing! Our ancestors are ALWAYS there working hard to bring us back to them; moving us… slowly or quickly… but ALWAYS there!