Diaspora Dictionary 2005-2006
By Thea Nerissa Barnes
This glossary contains words that allude to specific cultural practices and/or political stances that precipitate dance making or characterise aesthetic preferences for performing and enjoying Dance of the African Diaspora.
Part 3: R - Z
Reggae \ Indigenous popular music of Jamaica developed in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s that may have found its inspiration in the emulation of American rock and roll and rhythm and blues of the same era. References point out that reggae spurred a host of permutations for both music and dance but there is indication that reggae developed out of ska and rocksteady, dance music.
The mix of African and Caribbean musical inclinations married with American music provided the synergy for ska and its slower style, rocksteady. Both styles prioritised Jamaican rhythm guitar and organ bubble with drums, bass, horns, and vocals and were designed for popular forms of social dancing.
Connected with the spiritual emphasis in Rastafari (a religious concept developed in Jamaica by Leonard P. Howell in the 1930’s) and made famous by a variety of artists but the most notable Bob Marley, reggae was an outward manifestation of disenchantment with the social-economic circumstance of Jamaica. Other styles of the reggae genre include lover's rock, and dub.
Jamaican MC, Daddy U-Roy chatting and singing over dub versions is believed to be a precursor of rap. Dancehall is another type of Jamaican dub reggae that developed around 1979 which was characterised by a DJ singing and rapping or toasting over danceable reggae music. Other forms include two tone ska (developed in the U.K. 1970's), third wave of ska (American hybrid of two tone ska and punk), niyabingi (tribal Africa and Jamaican hand drums accompanied by songs and chants of Rastafari), jungle (U.K. hybrid of techno and dancehall), drum and bass (second phase of jungle) and ragga-hip hop (combination of dancehall and American hip hop).
Other forms resultant from the synergy between reggae and ska are mento, calypso and soca.
Ring shout \ one of the first dances created by Africans brought to America as slaves in the 1700’s. The ring shout was a sacred dance of salvation that enabled a community to find perseverance. Metaphorically this circle dance provided individuals solace and rejuvenation as well as sheltering many early nuances of Africanist dance culture and practice. With shuffling feet performed in a circle, ring shout developed into a union of dance and song that expressed an Africanist way of spiritualism. Derivatives of the ring shout was used in camp meeting hymns and work hollers in the antebellum south.
Roda \ pronounced and at times spelled hoda \ Capoeira is an “implication of fight” where the strategy is to predict your opponent’s next move before he makes it by performing well timed and clever manoeuvres. Two players use gymnastic and martial art movements performed in a circular type flow, reacting to each other while accompanied by a mixture of chosen Brazilian and African rhythms. Dictated by the rhythm of the drum, jogo determines how the game will be played, attacking kicks, defence moves and “take downs” are referenced as rasteria, deeper levels of how to play the game and confidence in one’s prowess are discovered through majinga.
Shimmy \ jazz dance form possibly a derivative of West African, particularly Nigerian movements featuring rapid shaking of the body
Shuffle \ Africanist dance movement featuring sliding or scraping of the feet along the earth; ex. Zulu shuffle is just that, a shuffle that caresses the earth and the accent is on the pull back with both knees softly bent and torso tilted slightly.
Soca \ a dance/music form developed out of the older calypso; a hard-driving, wining-inducing soca (standing for soul-calypso), originated in Trinidad.
Stomp \ jazz dance featuring heavy stamping of the feet derivative of Africanist dance movement vocabularies; various African communities have individual versions of this dance/music form performed as a rhythmical alternating lifting and setting on the ground of the legs.
Rhythmically and viscerally, the Nigerian stomp is totally different from the Guinea stomp, and the Senegalese stomp. There can be an implicit sacredness or communal significance that emphasises the dancer’s relation to earth and the event in which the stomp is performed.
Each action requires different technical skills to perform. Nigerian stomp is done with the standing leg almost straight with a bent working leg in contrast to gradations of bent-ness in supporting and working leg as evidenced in South African Zulu ingoma or indlamu stomps, both manifestations powerful but requiring different sense of rhythm and movement skills.
Tap Dance \ Buck and Wing, the precursor of Tap Dance, evolved possibly mid-19th century when African Americans combined their footwork with Irish and British clogging steps. References suggest Buck and Wing (Buck Dance and Pigeon Wing) or Buck dancing is an early tap dance routine performed by Minstrel and Vaudeville performers in the 19th Century. This dance was part practice intended to parody African-American males who were referred to at this time as Bucks.
Twist \ dance featuring many sideways twisting gyrations of the hips made famous by Chubby Checkers’ song and dance antics in 1960.
Umfundalai Dance Technique \ pioneered by Dr Kariamu Welsh Asante, Umfundalai is a contemporary African dance technique that has a Western technique structure. Studying African dance for a substantial number of years, Dr Asante has clarified varied aesthetics, belief systems, and geographical and political influences on dance for several Southern and Western African communities.
With this experience Dr Asante offers Umfundalai technique as a means to embody ways of knowing movement from a cultural perspective; learning skills to perform African dance vocabularies is a means to embody context as well as content. In this sense dance class becomes communal sharing; an event where one person shares ways of knowing movement with another. Umfundalai technique does not strive to teach movement as much as it leads a person on a journey to discover a means to articulate sensibilities and perspectives on diverse ways of knowing life and living.
Vodou/Vodun/Voudoun/Vadoun/Voodoo: (Vodun in Benin; Vodou in Haiti; Vudu in Dominican Republic) terms for ancestor-based spiritist-animist religious traditions. The roots of this danced religion can be traced to the Fon, Ewe, and Yoruba peoples of West Africa to include also peoples from western Nigeria to eastern Ghana including Benin. The word vodún is a Fon-Ewe word for spirit and in Fongbe language in Benin, vodou also means spirit. There are also Central African traditions that include Kongo rites and practices by the Bakongo people. A religious society for healing and divination, characterized by spirit possession by African-derived and Afro-New World deities the practices includes private consultations and public celebrations. The public celebrations include music and dance.
Wining \ Caribbean hip gyrating dance, with sexy dance moves common to carnival dance movement often done to reggae music and comparsa dancing in Cuba; reminiscent of 1920s black bottom, backing it up (couple is back to front, with the woman pushing and grinding her butt into the man’s body); grinding, either in couples or solo as strippers danced in 1920s vaudeville shows; 1970s the bump where partners bump their hips together while standing side to side.
Wukkin’ up \ Caribbean colloquial term referring to thrusting actions of the hips a dancer performs to mimic sexual moves.
Xylophone \ originally modelled after an African instrument which was given a name Greek that means wood sound. Dagara is the tribe of people living in northwestern Ghana whose use of xylophone in music and dances range from spiritual, religious ritual and traditional funeral music to their recreational circular Bewaa dance.
Dagara music with its complex polyrhythms is comprised of some of the oldest xylophone music in the world.
Yanvalou \ meaning supplication; Fongbe for praise; dance performed in honour of the Rada division of the Vodou pantheon in Haiti. Utilizing an undulating spine in evocative of the serpent god, Dambala, it has several versions; undulating spine while hands placed on knees or thighs with variations Yanvalou debut (upright), Yanvalou dos bas (crouching), Yanvalou z'epaules (a "shoulder dance").
Zouk \ means party in Creole of French with English and African influences in Dominica; rhythmic Caribbean disco music with roots in carnival rhythms; slow tempo, zouklove, danced by couple in close embrace with undulating hips, zouk lambada of Brazil where couple perform with hips, back-to-front glued to each other, flued to each other hipsfast zouk, zouk béton for the individual jump-up. Zouk is reputed as the most widespread dance craze to hit Latin American in some time, and was wildly popular even as far afield as Europe and Asia.
The Diaspora Dictionary - written and researched by Thea Barnes, is not meant to be a finite, complete or definitive work. It is however, to be taken as a piece to stimulate debate and support the enjoyment of dance.