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Animated Edition - Autumn 2007
African people's dance: the ultimate spiritual climax
Francis Angol Artistic Director, Movement Angol Dance Company
In Britain the term African People's Dance is a label, definition or simply a subjective generalisation that has been given to dance forms that are perceived to embody or utilise the fundamental principles and techniques of African dance. The term is also viewed as a definition of both the people within the sector as well as its many dance forms.

This in one sense can be viewed as a situation that has come about through the necessity to define, and to be defined by, a system that politically, socially and economically gives accountability to those who can be defined by its own standards. A method of 'one size fits all' - not! - is seen to be adopted that gives the impression that African People's dance is one thing, an attitude that places focus on ethnicity rather than artistry. In view of this dilemma, the term African People's Dance lives on, becoming a recognisable label of representation amongst the powers that be within British dance.

The term actually represents a coalition of expressions wide in nature, diverse in practice, a representative of the bubbling melting pot of what is seen as contemporary British Black dance culture of today. As a performer, tutor and choreographer working within the field of African dance, one would say that the essence of African People's dance is based on the teachings of what I refer to as the embodied experience, a unique experience where the body is allowed to continue through time and space, allowing the individual to move into conversation with itself facilitated through the language of movement and rhythm. A spiritual journey: physical in nature, musical in spirit, technical in body and life transforming in delivery. African and Caribbean music and dance is a major influence in most societies of today. It has played an instrumental role in modern music and dance, and its impact and influence will continue. An extraordinary activity that brings together mind, body and spirit creating a dialogue between the three that is encouraged through rhythm to allow individuals to experience the self as the self, within the self.

The dance of Africa is more than just art for art's sake. African dance has properties that are above and far beyond the aesthetic. It provides a contextual background, a framework within which dance is explored and digested in order to achieve the total embodied experience. One of the most stimulating things about participating in African People's dance is its all embracing quality and ability to awaken an individual's spirit through rhythm and movement, adding colour, texture and feeling to one's life, transporting spectator and participant on to the same stage to achieve a collective experience that allows one to nourish the other in a never ending spiral of creativity, to bring about a harmonious soul stirring experience.

As an art form some of the underpinning values that define African People's dance are its ability to reinforce cultural identity, its functional properties that stretch beyond the aesthetic, its all embracing policy of inclusion, and its empowering spirit that gives individuals an overwhelming sense of achievement.

An important aspect of African People's dance is its respect for the body and its relationship with the cosmos and the earth. The body sits in a harmonious balance with gravity, pulling or connecting body to earth; the earth seen as an extension of the dancer's body or an extension of the movement in time and space. Some of the more fundamental values are its relationship with and use of rhythm, a fundamental component of African People's dance expression since it allows the body to engage in conversation with itself, marrying tradition with modernity in order to transcend the individual to a place of self-awareness that gives rise to freedom of expression within a set structural universe.

In my role as a tutor of traditional and contemporary African dance, I am often placed in a unique position that allows me to be witness to one of the most remarkable phenomena that takes place resulting from the process of participating in an African People's dance class. I see individuals who arrive confident in their everyday lives stripped bare of their perceived outward personas of self-confidence, by virtue of being placed in the unfamiliar environment of the class, who as they progress are transformed from vulnerability into self-belief and inner confidence.

In a nutshell, participating in African People's dance results in the movement of people's lives in terms of opening access to the self, and to new and different social circles that bring about and promote greater understanding and acceptance of people and differences. Further benefits associated with the experience are that individuals gain a sense of cultural identity that they would not necessary gain through other dance activities. People develop a cultural rooting which enables them to engage with a different rhythm structure allowing them to connect with their bodies in order to gain greater self-confidence and mobility. There are also numerous health benefits associated with the activity to the extent that people's wellbeing is enhanced through regular physical exercise.

For me as a creative artist who strives to enrich the lives of the individual through my work and teachings by informing, educating and bringing people of diverse cultures and backgrounds together for a shared experience that hopes to add to their lives, is in itself a measure of success; a true to life model of validation that fortifies my beliefs and values of African People's dance.

Francis Angol can be contacted on movement@angol.fsworld.co.uk

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Animated: Autumn 2007