Submitted by Doris Green - January 9, 2015
Armed with my list of questions, I went to Africa in search of answers to these questions. I began my journey in East Africa. There I would see contractions in dances of this region. I was advised to go to West Africa because rhythm in West African music and dance was developed to the nth degree whereas the melodics of music received more attention than the rhythm in East Africa. It would take me several trips to Africa consulting with cultural informants on a trams-continental basis before I was satisfied with a plausible response to the reason behind the contractions. It was obvious to me that the answer was not to be found among youthful cultural informants. Their response was ‘contractions’ existed for sexual flavor. I rejected this answer, as I could not see any reason for contractions to be in all types of dances. I turned to the older cultural informants. When I asked Professor Opoku of Ghana, he told me that “sex: was not something they danced about in Ghana, sex was an act that they did. Further investigation revealed that in the traditional dances, the costumes worn contained secondary rattles that had to be moved in conjunction with the primary rattles of the musical ensemble. The placement of these secondary rattles could be worn on the ‘waist’, the shoulders, the ankles, neck or arms. Wherever these secondary rattles were worn, would be the focus of the actions. Throughout Africa I have seen the movement, when the secondary rattles were worn on the waist, that we mistakenly call contractions’ done on one hip and also on a alternating basis of the hips.
Unfortunately research did not reveal a photo of traditional dancers outfitted in full regalia, together with a recording of the music of the specific dances so the primary and secondary rattles could be studied. As dance became more popular and were taken out of their original setting, we see less of the traditional costumes. When Africans were enslaved and sent to foreign soil, these movements were transported with them, but they were without costume and the movement referenced everyday activities of work and play.
If you recall my explanation of ‘contraction’ to the attendees of the Theory Board meetings, I had them stand up and pretend to sit using their rear end, and at the last minute changing their mind and return to a standing position. I also told them that there was no forward thrust to this movement. But westerners have a tendency to misinterpret the movement and perform it in a licentious manner.
When I look at this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF0aaCyxQyg I see all the greatness that the ancestors have been taking to the grave with them because African music and dance lacked written documentation. I particularly enjoyed the bicycle wine.