Compiled by Mei-Chen Lu and Charlotte Wile - July 17, 2012
Oliver wrote: Even in mathematical books you will find not only pure notation, but also a lot of words, explaining the context.
Doris wrote: Permit me to state that African dancers, throughout all my research from Tanzania to Senegal, do not approach movement in the same vein as others. African movement is governed by the music itself, which is based on the spoken language of the people. Using the simple action of " to make a turn" In the 'Ga' language it would be played on the drum as ("To, De, Dzi, De, Dzi, De, To"). The dancer hearing these sounds, which is language would execute a turn.
Whereas a person who speaks the 'Ewe' language would listen for the sounds (To, De, Ga, Dzi, De) and the dancer would execute a turn. The turns are different for each language group. The use of words is the basis of the language barrier that makes it impossible for Africans to communicate to each other.
I find this as the most difficult aspect in teaching African dance to students even some Black students would mimmic the movement. As you know I brought Godwin Agbeli to teach in NYU in 1972 and he stressed to the students that they must know the music as it dictates the movement of the dance. Therefore all students had to learn to play the instruments before they danced. I state this because I have tried using words with Labanotation symbols. I even created the "Cue Card" which contains the primary rhythm of the selection. These are my experiences in writing African movements and probably do not apply to other dance forms, but the concept of pure notation and lots of words explaining the symbols or context appears time consuming.
When I first came to DNB and they asked me what I felt when doing a movement, I did not know how to respond except to say my movement is not based on feelings but on 'sounds' of the drum that clearly define what movement I am to execute and when to execute that movement. As an African American choreographer, my movements were not tied to a specific language that was indicated by the music.
Because I am a woman, and women should only be dancers in Africa, you can readily see the difficulty I had convincing Africans that their music and dance could be written. When I said I could write African music, many musicians looked at me as to say "who is this crazy woman"? When I told Senghor of Senegal that I could write African music, he said that he did not believe he could understand it because African music was so diverse throughout the continent. I asked him to donate an half hour of his time to let me prove it to him. He agreed and within fifteen minutes he was tapping out the rhythms for himself. He rushed to show the musical director of Senegal and my journey into percussion notation had seized confirmation that African music and dance could be written.