I feel privileged to have stayed two nights at Germain Acogny’s JANT-BI Ecole des Sables. We travelled about 55km south of Point E in Dakar – from the Piscine Olympique Nationale where the Asiko group is based) – to the village of Toubab Dialaw, Senegal.
The sun throws gracefully on an arid landscape. Baobab trees, in austere majesty, firmly stand flaunting their thick sprawling limbs. Livestock graze freely on scattered vegetation – withered plants and dry grass on brown earth. Spongy rocks – debris from a volcanic eruption sometime in the history of this area – protrude from the ground suffocating plant life around them. 1km into the village is The Jant-Bi Ecole des Sables – the international village for cultural exchange through dance.
The environment and architecture of the Ecole is an unexpected pleasure. While here, my knowledge and experience in the built environment was radically altered. I formed a seamless transition in my movement through space i.e. moving through the barn, the bedroom (mud buildings referred to as ‘villages’), the outdoor bathroom, the dance studios, and the kitchen etc felt like there were no physical objects/boundaries – walls, buildings – between them. It all felt like a series of physically (and more interestingly, logically) coherent elements arranged in an environment—there was a sense of purpose and meaning to this design. The architecture achieves sublime inter-relation between physicality and unseen natural forces. I felt enveloped in a strong psychic connection between the Ecole and this unknown force.
One dance studio is carpet-floored and the other covered in sand. I do not remember actively enrolling in a dance class, ever. I am very sure I would have declined the offer had it been open for us to choose. Saky, a member of the Jant-Bi dance group, taught us basic African rhythm and dance steps from various cultures. When I danced I felt the person next to me. We had established a common presence and were all aware of our fluxed energies. Saky took us through the basic two-step to initiate us. The choreography builds in complexity as the next move required us to push each foot out so the heel touches the floor. We then move into an agbadza (wingflap-like) motion with our arms keeping the rhythm of the feet. The chest is then pumped in and out eight times. The left arm is swung to touch the other knee, then the right in similar fashion followed by a forward lunge. The “yengeli” makes us wiggle our hips, throbbing our asses. The moves ranged from swipes, to pirouettes to jumps and so on.
All the while the djembe managed these sequences. We work according to the rhythm the percussionist beats out of the cover skin of the drum. I discovered my mind was thoroughly engaged throughout the process and had begun to latch on to the logic of the choreography. Here is what I learned from the experience; that dance is not just [in]coherent movement of body to rhythm or sound but a sacred art which actively engages, in unison, the mind, body, and soul. “When I start to dance it’s almost like I’m in a trance” says Nadia Buegre a professional dancer from the TchéTché group based in Cote D’Ivoire1. That half-conscious state enables her body to become more than a mere agent for perception. At once her body becomes an object and an event, a narrator and an audience, a history and a present, an environment and a barrier through the way she is able to control its movement.
The body in these paradoxes defines a universal language blurring cultural, linguistic and physical barriers — we all understand rhythm and movement. The body, in choreography, articulates its narratives through these elements.
Staying at The JANT-BI Ecole des Sable has opened me up within my inter-disciplinary practice as an artist – critically examining and paying attention to the interlocution between music, poetry, [visual] art, curating and writing. I am challenged to continue considering multiple art forms in my workings for this truly embodies a more meaningful practice. I danced and danced and danced until I ached… but I danced.
- See film “Movement (R)Evolution Africa”, Joan D. Frosch