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Learning Senegalese Sabar

Learning Senegalese Sabar: Dancers and Embodiment in New York and Dakar

Eleni Bizas
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Learning Senegalese Sabar
    Book Description:

    Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in New York and Dakar, this book explores the Senegalese dance-rhythms Sabar from the research position of a dance student. It features a comparative analysis of the pedagogical techniques used in dance classes in New York and Dakar, which in turn shed light on different aesthetics and understandings of dance, as well as different ways of learning, in each context. Pointing to a loose network of teachers and students who travel between New York and Dakar around the practice of West African dance forms, the author discusses how this movement is maintained, what role the imagination plays in mobilizing participants and how the 'cultural flow' of the dances is 'punctuated' by national borders and socio-economic relationships. She explores the different meanings articulated around Sabar's transatlantic movement and examines how the dance floor provides the grounds for contested understandings, socio-economic relationships and broader discourses to be re-choreographed in each setting.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-257-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Map of Senegal in Africa
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    The first time in a Sabar class is overwhelming, even for those familiar with West African dances. Nina had warned me. She did not like Sabar. She couldn’t enjoy it. In that first class, I understood why. I couldn’t hear the drumming and couldn’t see the movements. Almost supernatural, lavish jumps; arms flowing up and away from the body; knees swinging fast to the right and to the left . . . and then a sudden stop . . . Hips, knees, arms swinging graciously, nonchalant, this way and that, this way and that, to the right, to the left...

  7. Chapter 1 Transatlantic Travels of West African Dance
    (pp. 18-37)

    ‘Lumping’ West Africa together has been heavily criticized by scholars.¹ In New York, however, the term ‘West African’ resonates with participants; even with those who have a good understanding of the different countries, peoples and dance traditions, the term ‘lumps together’, as in West Africa the sociocultural geography of dances often transcends national boundaries.² To complicate matters further, the newly independent states of West Africa of the 1960s encouraged the mixing of dance traditions in their attempts to create unified national identities (Mark 1994). Thus, the same dances are practised in different countries and have often been exported by artists...

  8. Chapter 2 The New York Dance Floor
    (pp. 38-67)

    I had just started fieldwork and Aminata’s ‘Uptown-Downtown’ speech seemed cryptic. Nothing had happened in class – nothing that you could see – to trigger her sermon. The Uptown-Downtown tension however underlines many New York West African classes, and expresses a tension between the different understandings of those involved in the classes. Geographical tensions between New York boroughs and neighbourhoods is a more general attitude amongst New Yorkers who will for example not venture from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side or from Queens to Brooklyn. In the case of West African dances however, Uptown and Downtown also denote...

  9. Chapter 3 Navigating Transatlantic Flows
    (pp. 68-85)

    Since his first trip to Guinea, John has also visited Senegal on his own or as a guest of family members of New York teachers. John is not a typical New York student of West African dance as he is one of the very few male ones. John is not untypical, however, in choosing to travel to West Africa. Students travel to West Africa on their own or in trips organized by New York teachers to learn Djembé and Sabar in ‘context’.

    The trips are advertised through websites, emails, brochures and classes, marketed by teachers, their partners and former participants.¹...

  10. Chapter 4 Re-choreographing Sabar
    (pp. 86-100)

    The ‘context’ of Djembé and Sabar is complicated further in West Africa as the forms are taught in different environments. This chapter focuses on Dakar and explores how different forms of Sabar are produced in different learning contexts: Sabar taught to international students, Sabar as performed in street-Sabars and Sabar as learned in agéwëlhousehold. These different settings are not distinct, as dancers and movements circulate through all. However, they are different in the pedagogical techniques used and, consequently, in the forms of Sabar they envelop and produce. The chapter will explore how these forms are understood, reproduced and...

  11. Chapter 5 The Kinaesthetic of Sabar
    (pp. 101-116)

    Like other dance forms, learning to dance Sabar is not only about replicating movement. It involves the appropriation of a specific aesthetic quality, a specific texture in one’s movement that I call here the ‘kinaesthetic of Sabar’. This discussion revolves around a distinction between the technique of movement and thekinaestheticof movement. I employ kinaesthetic in a parallel way to Downey who used it in reference to participants’ statements of an ‘overall quality of movement’ that defines Capoeira (Downey 2005: 118).¹ The kinaesthetic of Sabar does not homogenize everyone’s dancing. Participants talk about individual and collective styles that affect...

  12. Chapter 6 Hearing Movements, Seeing Rhythms
    (pp. 117-126)

    Anyone who has experimented with West African dances is familiar with the ‘mystical’ connection between the dancing and the drumming. It features prominently in the discourses of the students. Dancing to the rhythm is one of the first problems students face in learning West African dance forms. Here I explore the relationship between dancing and drumming in Sabar, through the pedagogical technique used to communicate rhythm and movement in Sabar, and discuss the aesthetic of improvisation embedded in this technique.

    I employ the term ‘aesthetic’ following dance anthropologist Kaeppler to denote the criteria by which one is evaluated (Kaeppler 2003:...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 127-132)

    This study’s methodological movement between New York and Dakar had the following aims: firstly, to ground locally theoretical discussions that aim to conceptualize social life and the movement of people and cultural forms in an increasingly interconnected world; and secondly, to explore comparatively pedagogical techniques, ideas of learning, local aesthetics and notions of dance. As a result, this study also addressed how pedagogical techniques are linked to the socio-economic and historical relations of participants.

    By means of an ethnographic treatment of the role of the imagination and its relation to social life I argued that the imagination plays an important...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 133-134)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 135-146)
  16. Index
    (pp. 147-154)