Tuesday, May 10, 2011

African Dance

African Dance
Submitted by Doris Green – May 10, 2011

In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that mandated the inclusion of courses on Black and minority studies into the curriculum of colleges and universities on a nationwide level. Any educational institution not in compliance would risk the loss of Federal funding.

At that time I was an undergraduate student in Brooklyn College where I studied Labanotation. Department chairmen scrambled to find what courses they could offer to be in compliance with the federal mandate. When questioned I suggested that African dance and music be offered. The department was familiar with my work on the campus in music, dance and theater. Thus they began to groom me to teach a course or courses in African dance. Therefore in 1969 when I graduated, I became the first person to teach African music and dance in Brooklyn College.

As the first teacher of traditional African music and dance in the College, I faced many situations that needed my immediate attention, such as the lack of a textbook; lack of terminology that would define the area of specialization; lack of instruments and written documentation. I immediately began to corral the information I gleaned from years of studying African dance with African students who came to New York and shared their culture with us. I went to Africa not only to hone my skills but also to conduct research
and share my knowledge with Africans. I would bring home new dances and instruments to use in my classrooms.

African music is largely percussive in nature and cannot be written with the western system of notation. Africans were making dire efforts to find a way to write music of their instruments. They were mesmerized when they discovered that I had created a system wherein percussive music could be written and aligned with the corresponding dance movements.

For more than 41 years I have been conducting research in countries from Tanzania to Senegal. Not only have I written and published my autobiography No Longer an Oral Tradition: My Journey Through Percussion Notation, but also a textbook Greenotation: Manuscripts of African music and dance, which has yet to be published.

The O.A.U. [Organization for African Unity] examined my work and suggested that it be adapted and included in all schools throughout Africa. My textbook is the most definitive work in the field and has been used in Ivory Coast and Ghana. French copies of this text were deposited in Senegal for use in the theater. Until all colleges and universities, public and private in Africa and the diaspora that teach Africa music and dance have a textbook that defines its music and dance parallel to how a dictionary defines its words, their teachings cannot be assessed, and what is flamboyant will continue to rule.

It is unfortunate that people are dancing what they call West African dance, which is a rehashing of the choreography of Maurice Sonar Senghor of Senegal, and Keita Fodeba, who were the two principal leaders of the post-colonial cultural awakening movement that was premiered in France in 1953 producing the Guinea Ballet. Therefore “West African dance is essentially the dances of Senegal, Mali and Guinea. But people dance throughout Africa. What about Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone as these countries are also in the West African region? Of course Senghor after being successful with the National Ballet of Senegal, and the Mali Dance Company would bring the National Ballet of Senegal to Brooklyn in 1971and completely revolutionize how African music and dance was practiced and performed forever.

I am retired now, but in the words of Bob Marley, stand up for your rights, don’t give up the fight. I will continue to push for the use of Greenotation in all schools and colleges. In the absence of a textbook, academia does not recognize such courses as valid courses within the curriculum.

For Black History month I did a performance, book signing and presentation of my autobiography entitled  No Longer an Oral Tradition: My Journey Through Percussion Notation - From the streets of Brooklyn to the continent of Africa. Cablevision saw the advertisement and came to the Uniondale Library to tape the show.

The program aired on Channel 118 - Neighborhood Journal, to Nassau and Suffolk residents for more than two weeks, seven times a day. 

The Jones family is a group of six musicians and dancers who I am training as the next generation in African music and dance notation. Of course the field of African music/dance has a long way to go to the fruition of my plans for the comprehensive study of African music and dance, which includes the publication of the textbook Greenotation: Manuscripts of African Music and Dance.

I will work with the Library to produce more shows that can be used for Black History and women's  months.    

A reminder the 34th year of DanceAfrica will  showcase at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 26-May 29th. 

If the readers want to know more about my work they can view my website.

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