West African Dance in Jackson, MS
How much do you know about the culture and traditions of other nations? We are blessed to be surrounded by so many different cultures here in Central Mississippi, represented in cuisine, music, art, and dance. This year we get a special treat – a glimpse into traditional West African Dance. There’s a series of community dance classes, hosted at Central United Methodist Family Life Center downtown Jackson on Sundays at 2 p.m. The classes are sponsored by the Mississippi Arts Commission and Greater Jackson Arts Council and is a gift to our community. All the classes are free to attend.
The lovely dance instructor, teaching artist and choreographer Shanina Carmichael welcomed everyone into the circle and told us a little bit of the history of West African Dance. It is fascinating. Traditionally, specific rhythms and corresponding dances were used for different occasions. One of the dances we did was to celebrate coming-of-age and all the exciting changes it brings along. That was a very energetic and fun dance to do. Sweat-inducing too. If you like Zumba, you’ll enjoy this as a workout. But it is so much better, richer and more meaningful than a workout.
Following the dance instructor’s lead is pretty easy – just do what you see and try to keep up. If you can’t keep up, do what you can. No one is stopping the program to polish your moves and fix your mistakes. No one cares, really. Everyone is there for their own reasons: resting their minds, burning some calories, learning some fun choreography or educating themselves about African culture. The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxing.
The Drum Energy
The dance part is what it’s all about. But live drums are equally important. I’m no expert, but I am pretty sure that what we experienced wouldn’t be possible with a recording – even the best one. The musicians lead the way and set the rhythm. Dancers start off following the drums, but later on, during the circle, it is the dancers that dominate, expressing themselves in movement, while the percussion instrumentals follow the lead, changing the speed, dynamics, intensity and rhythm patterns to follow the dance, wherever it leads. The percussionists at the class I attended were absolutely incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed their electric performance. My son, who brought his own drum, got to know them personally while playing along and getting some tips from the pros. If you get a chance, do check out Alkebulan Music Philosophy on Facebook. These guys are amazing.
When the rhythms of the drums fill the room and get deep into your mind and body, there is a special energy in the air, so thick you can almost feel it with your hands. That is what it feels like to be in the circle. A “circle” is just that – a circle of people clapping and stepping to the rhythm of the drums. People take turns stepping into the center of the circle (only if they feel like it) and express themselves in dance. There are no rules to follow. Nothing is off limits. Sometimes dancers step into the circle in groups of two or three. The unique personality of every individual shows in the dance, everyone else cheers and claps to encourage those in the center. And it is a TON of fun.
Know & Go
What: West African Dance choreography and performance class. All ages and experience levels welcome. Baby and child-friendly. Strollers, carrier, playpens are OK to bring.
When: Sundays at 2 p.m.
Where: Central United Methodist Family Life Center
517 North Farish St., Jackson, MS
Sunday, January 27 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, February 03 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, February 10 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, February 17 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, February 24 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, March 03 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, March 10 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, March 17 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, March 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, March 31 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, April 07 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, April 14 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, April 21 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, April 28 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, May 05 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, May 12 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, May 19 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, May 26 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, June 02 2:00 – 3:30 pm
Sunday, June 09 2:00 – 3:30 pm