For second year in a row the African Dance and Wellness team was invited to the Traditional and Organic Food and Seed Festival at Harare Botanical Gardens, organised by Bio Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ). We have culture and tradition in common with both BIZ and the Festival, so you can imagine our excitement when we received the invite earlier in the year.
The festival has been going on for four years, and is focused on promoting underutilised, natural plant species found mainly in the Zimbabwean bushes/forests such as the baobab.
We opened the festival with an AfroFit workout early in the morning. The crowd was not as big as the main festival attendance, though we all know that Zimbabweans are not exactly morning people. Nonetheless, the people who came through were first time AfroFitters and we gave them an exceptional dance and fitness class under the blue Harare sky inside the botanical gardens.
The fusion of the African rhythms and the singing birds made for an even better workout. We received raving reviews from the participants whom like many others who experience AfroFit for the first time, become members on the spot. It is always encouraging to get such positive feedback and pushes everyone at African Dance and Wellness to keep on keeping on and delivering exceptional service. Watch the video below:
From mid-morning, it was time to pay attention to the kiddlings who came with their parents to have a good time. Our AfroFeet dance programme is designed to achieve just that, FUN! The dancing is educational, yet entertaining, hence why we labelled it edudance = edutainment.
The children were taken through the history of the Dinhe dance, a harvest dance predominantly performed in Masvingo province. It was very important and perhaps ironical to teach techniques associated with this dance as Zimbabwe experienced the El Nino induced drought in 2015 and staring in the face of the farming season. We chose this dance on purpose in order to predict the bumper harvest we are going to experience in the 2016-2017 farming season. Some of the movements in the dance involve learning how to seed, plant and weed. There surely isn’t a better way to teach such practices to our children, given that agriculture is the backbone of our economy.
We have already received an invite to next year’s festival, and I am sure you agree that is pretty awesome! We hope to see you there too, ready to bust some more moves with us at African Dance and Wellness.
First school term of 2016 was very short, and second term made up for it with more weeks than usual. Third term is well underway and if you are a dance teacher, it is by far the most excitingly stressful time because recitals are here galore. Many schools and dance companies have already started recital prep at this point, and that is commendable. Starlight will start very soon at the National Ballet, make sure to attend at least one night:
I recently attended the Ballroom competition with our performance team Tamba Africa Ensemble where we showcased a piece called Dawn, find it here (watch video below). Beautiful setting and the kids danced beautifully as well however, I could not help but wonder if the audience realised the amount of time, planning and energy it takes to pull off such a dance programme. Trying to remember everything that you need to bring and attempting to enjoy the moment are two very different things, so hopefully this post will help you feel a bit more prepared.
Make sure the students know their steps down to the T. They have to be comfortable with the routines and it is very important that they understand the difference between performing and counting steps. A performance is not forced, it is natural movement of the body, telling the story of the choreography.
Involve the students with the entire production, we do this with our teaching programme AfroFeet, where students are given options to get involved with associated things like lighting, stage management, costume and makeup among other production related tasks. Involving students with other tasks will ensure you build well-rounded dance students who have a full appreciation of the world of performing dance.
Make sure you are comfortable with the steps so that as I mentioned above, you can perform and not focus merely on repeating the steps you were learning throughout the term. Make sure you pack well the day of the recital to ensure that you don’t leave anything at home. While backstage, have a watch so that you are always aware of the time you will be needed on stage. Technology is also great during downtime as it keeps you from becoming bored.
Caution! Please avoid being backstage at all cost. You can only make your child nervous, with disastrous consequences – although ‘mom and dad were just trying to show support’. Make sure your child is rehearsing at home so that they nail the performance. On the day of the recital, please arrive early in order to get the best seats. It’s important you cheer on everyone, and not just your child, crucially, please I beggo – no booing – under no circumstances is that ever cool.
Teaching cultural African dance techniques effectively involves building an engaging, strategic relationship – building conversations with students/clients, verbally as well as through body movements. Teachers usually increase the likelihood of participants engaging, persisting and enjoying dance through establishing positive individual relationships with them. As dance teachers, sometimes we get frustrated when a participant doesn’t live up to what we believe to be their potential. We spend time working on each individual student even when we are at home, figuring out the best way to help them achieve this potential – taking from our own family time – fully invested in the future of children in our classes. Continue reading because - Somewhere A Dance Teacher is Thinking & Doing What You Don’t Know.
‘A man without a history is like a tree without roots’ Bob Marley. My past experiences have shaped the person and teacher that I am today. As a student, I know some of the things my former teachers said were wonderful but passed from my mind quickly. Unfortunately, the negative things they used to say to me, most of the time off (without thinking it through), were devastating and they have haunted me throughout my life (affecting my confidence – e.g. my height is a sensitive topic to this day). Because of such experiences, I am careful of what I say to my students and how I say/communicate with them. It’s a constant battle in my mind to bite my lip so as not to replicate the negativity from my past teachers: Somewhere A Dance Teacher is Thinking & Doing What You Don’t Know.
Comparing one student to another in a negative way ‘Dunga why can’t you jump as high as Ian?’ In a previous blog post, I talked about using communication as an effective teaching technique. I have heard so many teachers say things like the above and all I want is to scream ‘Dunga is not Ian, go hang 40 times teacher!!!’ It is sad that some people in our profession do not get that all they are doing is feed negative energy into the class, which generates negative competition that typically results in very low self-esteem and low performance from a section of the class. Competition is an important part of life, and African dance is no exception nonetheless, it has to be the healthy kind of competition – this is not the jungle, where only the fittest survive. My colleagues and I at AfroFeet study our students to make sure our teaching methods suit each individual student, we compare notes and learn from each other as well. We spend hours on end, learning, be it great technique, or memorising a combination quickly, we are constantly learning: Somewhere A Dance Teacher is Thinking & Doing What You Don’t Know.
Below are 8 things you may not have known a cultural African dance teacher thinks about and does away from the dance studio…
When we dance we use our bodies, and as such, we have to keep the body in good shape at all times. For a dancer, the body is an instrument – it assists us in completing motions such as walking, sitting or sleeping. In the world of dance, this instrument has to be ready to complete movements that require different levels of effort, strength and agility. Very easily, the body can become a danger to itself, just like starting a vehicle for the first time in the morning, you have to allow time for the engine to heat up before you head out. The same principle applies with the body, you have to raise the heart rate, allow blood to rush through your muscles before you begin vigorous movements.
As I write this right now, I know there is someone contemplating on starting a presentation, dance performance without warming up because they have run out of time, or they want to do a quick demonstration and be on their way. Look around you and tell them to STOP!!! For a while, I ignored this basic principle and for a while I thought I was demystifying ‘the warm up myth’. Boy did I get a rude awakening when I pulled a muscle right before a career defining presentation while I was still at Dance School. As someone who always despised warm ups, and as a teacher now, I make sure to devote time to creating interesting sequences for my students. There are three (3) basic types of warm ups e.g. cardiovascular, technique exercise, and thematic warm ups. In a different blog post, I will elaborate on these, but for now, it is important that you take note.
The dance teacher usually teaches using locomotor (running, skipping, jumping etc.) and they are non-locomotor or axial (bending, stretching, twisting) movements in the classroom / hall or outdoor. Learners find their own space and at the beat of a drum they run/skip/slide around the room. For example, the students can move around in regular beats with arms making figure of eight movement, first low then high. The teacher can at any point call out a signal for the learners to stop. The use of “hold or freeze’’ is important to give the learners the opportunity to process the information before proceeding to the next task/activity, throughout the lesson.
Instruction in dance often requires some basic warm –up activities to help us to reduce the possibility of injury. The teacher may lead the class in stretching and basic physical activity to allow students to warm up their muscles and be prepared to perform simple and complex movements most individuals do not perform during normal day-to-day activities. Another one we warm up is through folk games such as 'Kachembere keGudo' (Old Baboon) – designed to raise the pulse rate, increase the body temperature (especially in this Winter after the El Nino) and mobilise the joints and warm the muscles. This same game helps children in our classes to become more aware of the spaces as well as their peers in the class. It’s also an opportunity to become present and connect with your body. Dancers know that a proper warm-up can prevent injury and allow them to dance with full range of motion and extension.
So why is warm up important for us at African Dance & Wellness teaching programme AfroFeet?
A structured class is essential to a successful dance class. It allows your students to know what is expected of them, and for me the teacher to allow the class to move smoothly. In any given week I teach in several diverse spaces. Each class is unique, but they all share the basic structure of a clear beginning, middle and end leading to overall sequential and thematic classes.
Of course every dance teacher’s class structure is different, there is no (absolute) right way to do it, but it is important to have structure. I find if I ever drastically switch the order it affects my students as they are accustomed to the specific structure of their class. There have been instances where I have experimented and deviated too much from the communicated structure, the students noticed very quickly, and requested I follow the set structure (because it made learning easy). It is critical to keep the routine every week, however, routine does not mean boring – it essentially means that we have a basic framework from which to work from). So once you choose a structure that works, stick with it. Here is an example of how a 45 minute AfroFeet class moves smoothly.
In this part we include a discussion of both the theme and topic for the class. Outcomes are communicated to the students from the onset so they know what is expected of them. The key is to have a stimulating discussion to interest and motivate the students making them eager to learn.
AfroFeet class begins with a warm-up, stretch, and then progress to the exploration of various dance elements, including the relevant vocabulary we will cover during the class. The warm-up dance elements and vocabulary compliment the theme of the day i.e. they are always in sync, and contextualised so that they work together instead of contrasting and fighting each other. Teaching pack one (3-7 year olds) starts with ‘Fire on the mountain’ with me beating on the drum to dictate rhythm and children singing and listening to prompts and mimicking an animal of their choice and changing the animal with each rhythm change.
During this main or middle section I insist on team work because we teach groups, and our students need to learn how to work as part of a team. They share their dance work and receive feedback from their peers. In their critiques they consider more than the physical movements, but also the ideas and feeling evoked by the dance.
Once the students grasp the techniques taught, they will be expected, in subsequent classes to develop choreography based on the African dance elements and vocabulary explored in the previous weeks. The goal is to produce exceptional dancers who are able to draw on their own observations, experience and research at a very young age and create pieces that even seasoned dancers would envy.
The class concludes the same way it begins, with some drum beating then gradually moving to a stretch followed by a discussion where everyone contributes to how they felt about the class. It might seem silly to do it with young children, but you will be surprised by how many fundamental changes we have made as a result of listening to our students.
How do we know that our structure works? The success is not marked by a grade, but rather by our students’ participation during assessments. The assessments take the form of beautiful and creative recitals that are graced by fellow students and family. They serve not only as entertainment but evidence of the depth of our students achievements. It is a platform for our students to demonstrate that they have understood, and applied the dance techniques, vocabulary and cultural knowledge.
At African Dance & Wellness, under our AfroFit unit, we define wellness as a healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit – absence of disease is implied. And recently we came to an agreement that it was not enough to offer dance fitness classes to individuals and groups at our studio alone. This realisation led us to establishing a Corporate Wellness Programme as we appreciated that staff well-being had a huge impact on productivity.
Studies have proven that organisations (large and small) with a wellness programme perform better than those who take staff well-being for granted. It’s also a fact that staff retention is higher in companies with a wellness programme, even when they pay less than those organisations without a strategy aimed at wellness of employees.
June 4, 2016 - Belgravia Sport Club - Minerva Staff Day
One such company that has its employees at heart is Minerva Risk Advisors, a Risk and Insurance company in Zimbabwe. Not only do they give AfroFit vouchers to employees, instead of take-away vouchers, it hosts staff days that also act as team building. Minerva are far ahead of the pack in the industry that they chose African Dance & Wellness to be its growth partner and provide a wellness service, with the first held on Saturday June 4, 2016. Employees agreed that it was a resounding success as they experienced the AfroZunza (Shake-off) workout. What is better than starting the morning by burning upwards of 600 calories?
In order to completely fulfil this circle of wellness we have partnered with Bio Innovation Zimbabwe, a research organisation deeply knowledgeable about traditional and organic plants, seeds and foods. They bring along samples to taste as well as products to purchase such as moringa tea, granola bars and baobab powder.
In African dance, every dance has certain characteristics that can be seen and you can tell which dance it is through the movement, the timing and the history but most importantly, the dance position of the performer.
African dance has a different kind of passion when performing it. This is mostly from which part of the continent the dance is from. In southern Africa, we dance "grounded"! All the passion comes from the ground and flows through you. This is the basic passion of dancers in southern Africa as you see a lot of foot work. It's like the earth is powering your movements with each foot stomp or with each jump. Your movement in the dance - it's jumping and the moves are more off the floor. When you jump, you have to keep the body open as you go up and down, and when you crouch your body, staying small - open your body. Time is important as well because knowing the time of the dance gives the dancer an idea of how to stand and how the dance will be presented.
A celebration dance will have moves that are all over the place. Keep the dance rooted as it is supposed to be and don’t get carried away with the move. Know the basics of it and keep them as you apply the fundamentals. History is also important as you will get to know where the dance originated from. The history of a dance helps in being connected to that tribe, formulating a bond which allows for you, as the performer, to speak to the audience. To tell the audience the tribe's story. In Africa, we have a lot of dances and all these dances require passion, however people have problems keeping the passion on stage during a performance. The trick is not to keep the show going but is to know the dance in and out through passion. The performance won’t be a problem when you get on stage and it will not be something to think about during show. Let the passion take over!
I really love performing African dance! When I'm not on stage or rehearsing for a performance, I spend my time in the studio, trying to see how best can I help people to know more of African dance and keeping African dance alive.
These classes will introduce movements at a slow and encouraging pace. Dance is an art, and like everything artistic, it is incomplete without the correct technique, precision, and a unique touch of class. While these are all very difficult to do, our teaching programme, AfroFeet, is designed to develop all of them simultaneously. Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks was surely not referring to cultural African dance. It was certainly prior to the innovations of African Dance & Wellness. This week I thought to share a few reason why you should include dance in your weekly routine and watch your life transform right before your very eyes:
Do you care about your health?
Dance is therapeutic! It reduces stress and tension in the mind. There are few better ways of taking care of your heart than through dance. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute confirmed that dancing prevents heart disease. This is why at African Dance & Wellness we say: Adding years to your life through dance. Cultural African dance styles like Muchongoyo, (a warrior dance) performed in Zimbabwe, has sustained movements that puts pressure on muscles. This allows you to build strength and endurance in the process (not a bad side effect). What’s even better is the vigour in most African dance movements – the more energy each step requires, the greater the benefit you derive – so don’t hold back in the studio.
Do you have two left feet?
It’s okay to admit it! We have a few of those like you in our organisation doing admin work. But they will tell you that the rotational movements that are a part of how we conduct classes, help a great deal with improving agility and coordination. Don’t be embarrassed about coming to class if you have two left feet, because everyone is concentrating on their own steps to care about watching you. We also assign AfroFeet members to sequential levels based on ability and it reduces pressure. The whole idea is to become entranced to the rhythm produced by the music, and embrace the freedom of movement dictated by the African drum. Nobody is too stiff, no one is too short or tall, and no one is too plump or skinny. Success kisses the feet of the passionate, and so nothing is impossible with African dance styles.
Who is down for a good time?
The energy in a dance studio is seriously contagious and you can’t help but feel the beat and move your body. If you are beginner, with time, you will go from just moving body parts to manipulating your body to create patterns, and it’s at this point that you will appreciate how dance is an art. I have been out in the town a few times and have seen men and women who come for classes at the studio busting moves we would have learnt in class. The greatest advantage of African dance styles is that you can use it for all occasions, from birthday parties to weddings. In Zimbabwe for example, there are 13 major dance styles and 10 minor dance styles. They are all for unique purposes and we teach them all!
Break out of the routine: wakeup – work – eat – go home – sleep – and start all over again the next day. Live a little – shake something – move something – celebrate culture. Join our class today!
We have feelings too! I guess you already knew that.
It is intense! It is difficult! Every muscle in your body is strained but you have to maintain the perfect form and technique, whilst focusing on every individual move. In order to teach it, you need to know it in order for students to get it. You need to demonstrate, and demonstrate well. Dance is so practical! The fake it till you make it phenomenon does not exist in our industry, even so for teachers. You have to physically show the stages your mind goes through when executing a movement, make explicit the insanity of your mind when thinking of, and executing, 20 different moves and corrections at the same time. It is my belief that students have to go through this together with their teacher, in order to know how to deal with the pressures of either performing or teaching themselves. I also share with my students the joy I feel when I pull off a top-drawer move and exceed expectations. I feel it is critical for teachers to take their students down this fantastic journey of discovering these emotions.
When I’m teaching either at the studio or in schools, I feel like I have a greater purpose in life. Teaching cultural African dance fulfills me, or in Jerry McGuire style, ‘Completes me’. Be it teaching theory, demonstrating a step or watching my students shine on stage, I forget everything else around me, including all the bad in the world, which allows me to solely focus on speaking without using words. Yes, dance helps me find my centre, and manipulating the body into patterns that tell a story people can relate to really is, speaking without words. It is always like dance is coming from the deepest part of my soul. Such is the power of art, and it is true that life imitates art.
I am extremely passionate about cultural African dance styles from the various countries on the continent. It is important that this passion filters through my teaching methods and that my students (professional or amateur) feel this passion and feed off of it to create this big energy. So whether I am going through a difficult time or I am super happy, this needs to come out in my classes. This year’s Intswasa Festival in Bulawayo is running under the theme ‘Expression’ and Resdon and his team could not have chosen a better name. Dance is about not holding back because we experience freedom when we liberate our minds, then and only then can we express ourselves. We certainly hope our performance team Tamba Africa Ensemble will be chosen to participate this year because the concept we have developed fully embraces ‘Expression’.
Imparting knowledge allows me to refresh my mind. I feel like I’m telling stories with my body. It’s heaven!
The performance of African dance today has shifted, as we now have to put it on stage and in competitions. The need to impress audiences has never been as high as it is right now. Extreme choreography sells tickets to festivals and event organisers want performances that will brighten their events, making dance a high-performance market. I have performed all over the world, Europe, Africa, and America, and have learnt a few things that other cultural African dance performers either lack or do not take seriously as they are commonly associated with Western dance styles.
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