Our guest post this week is by Rujeko Dumbutshena, a Zimbabwean dancer and artist who teaches courses on neo traditional African movement.
I believe African dance is a reflection of our humanity—and therefore of our cosmic story. I have been teaching dances that, in their context, many years ago, were used for celebrating and mourning the natural cycles of life. Because the uses of traditional African dance seem endless, I have always found ease in applying movement to story.
When starting to work on concepts for a performance for the African Cosmos exhibit with my friends and fellow Zimbabwean artists Mavhu Farai Hargrove and Farai Malianga, it became clear that I was about to draw inspiration from a part of my culture that I knew little about. You would think that my non-tradition upbringing, Christian education system and training in classical ballet, would render my cultural stories irretrievable, but working on the Jenaguru performance for the African cosmology exhibit has forced me to bring those stories back to life and closer to home.
When we first sat down together we managed to achieve a common ground with our individual understanding of our fundamental cultural worldview. God is not in heaven so there is no need to direct our prayers to the sky, our ancestors replace others deities and gods and luckily for us, our creation story has been handed down to us to draw inspiration from despite our distance from home. African dance has kept me connected to the age old ways we have been paying homage to the natural order of our universe and therefore I begin to find ease in finding movement that reflect our cosmic story.
At first, the most familiar associations came to mind: stars as female beauty, the Sun brings the joy of gathering together, while the full moon compels us to dance in courtship. I no longer feel at a total loss—I will start with Mhande, a rain dance which makes me realize that although we may look upward to the sky for rain, the dance itself emphasizes our connection to the earth. When we are compelled to reach up to the sky it is only because our feet were firmly planted on the ground.
Pounding Mhande rhythms continuously, while singing and drumming, if done for long enough, will open a portal that gives us a chance to commune with our ancestors and gives them a chance to carry our prayers to God so that he/she, in turn, may give us rain.
Where there are no gods to worship, no heaven to look up to, transcendence comes from moving your being in song, music and dance to a point where our physical reality becomes a spiritual one reflected in our cosmos and the stories it tells showing us that we are never far from home.