Monday, June 05, 2006

Congolese Drum and Dance Conference

This weekend was really fun. My legs are tired, knees more than a little sore, but it was well worth the effort, so many wonderful musicians and artists under one roof at the same time for our edification. I remarked to one teacher, Biza Sompa, that I was surprised that none of the teachers duplicated each other's choreography --from Titos Sompa his elder brother, the man responsible for Congolese dance in this country, to Sister Odile Wanuke, Jean-Armel Mampouya, and Patrice Mbayero.

There's something healing about the rhythms of Africa, African music, and African people playing this music, singing the songs.

I didn't like the imposition of western cultural restraints on what was supposed to be fun. The bossy attitudes and the insistence on lines, was so out of Africa we would have been in a circle not a line, and the ridiculous arms bands for each class, especially for those of us who'd paid for multiple classes -- I had to go stand in long lines after each class for a different colored band.

It was more than a little annoying, especially when one person told me one thing and then someone else told me something different. I was well-- why can't the customer be right or at least get the band for me, since you want me to have it so badly.

Biza and Jean and Odile's attitudes were so cool, I couldn't stay annoyed once the music started, and the woman who was so intent on straight lines did such a great warm-up on Friday and Sunday, as Tupac said in one of his songs: I couldn't stay made at her.

This conference was the best advertisement for on-going classes at the Malonga Center, 1428 Alice Street, Oakland, dedicated to the late master drummer and dancer, Malonga Casquelourd, a student of Papa Sompa -- killed in a tragic car accident by a drunk driver.

Tuesday evenings, 7-8:30 p.m., there is a class; and Sunday at 12 noon-1:30 Mbayero has a class; which is followed at 2 p.m. by Portsha Jefferson's Haitian Dance Class. I think this had to be one of my favorites this week; the dance we performed one of resistance.

There will be Congolese Dance & Drum Camp in July in California and an African Renaissance Celebration in Michigan June 22 to July 2 or 3. For information about the classes, conferences and workshops, contact:


At 5:57 AM, Blogger dancingranny said...

Keeping the lines intact in African dance classes has been and is an ongoing issue; one or two reasons come to of the dancers behind, in front, and beside you...and it gives the instructor the opportunity to help those students who appear to be struggling with the demonstrated move.

When I started taking African dance classes, I was so intent on doing the move(s) I lost track of my personal space and bumped into other dancers, which was some times not cool. I have long legs and arms and on more than one occasion have bopped or kicked someone behind me because they were NOT paying attention to their lines and/or personal space. incidents of this nature have the potential to cause some serious problems, if you know what I mean.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger lovetodance said...

Wow..if we were in Africa. If we were in Africa, we wouldn't dance in tennis shoes and would most likely have on lappas as well. We must remember that those in Africa are still in their original surroundings and so they don't have the same problems we have when it comes to straight lines and moving as one, as in a circle. People in this country have had to be taught how to make a dance class flow. When people don't keep the lines, it can be very frustrating for other dancers, let alone dangerous. It makes it harder for others to see the instructor and for the instructor to see some of the students. Western restraint or not as other things in our lives today, the "lines" tend to work and make the class flow when everyone works to keep the lines together. I have experienced classes taught in a circle and for a few movements it worked fine but, for the majority of the class, it was horrible and everyone complained about it for one reason or another. Some people felt that they couldn't see the instructor. There is a reason they are in front of the whole class.

As far as the wrist bands well, I'm sure that system can always be a little smoother and it probably will be next time, seeing that this was the first conference, it was no where near as bad as it could have been. No one likes wearing those things, however, for those on the administrative side, it makes it so much easier to know who has paid. Even with the bands, there were a few people that tried to just walk in without registering so, I can't imagine what would've took place if there were no bands at all. So, maybe if people were honest enough to at least let someone at the registration table know they wish to take the class regardless of how much they have missed, that would help. As fas as being told one thing and then something else, there were volunteers helping and maybe they missed what was said about registration in regards to multiple classes. After this being such a big deal for you, I'm glad that you still mananged to have a good time.

The SPIRIT OF THE CONGO Camp in Michigan is June 27 - July 2, 2006, for more information, contact 734-761-7071 or


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