19 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Unpacking Zim Dances

Since time immemorial, dance has been known to reflect a people's culture, tradition and ethos, in a similar manner that other forms of art play.

Coming back to Zimbabwe, the question of what defines a truly Zimbabwean dance has always brought up more questions than answers.

With more dancers and practitioners of contemporary dances mushrooming with each passing day, many people have asked what should be called a Zimbabwean dance or dances.

One is assured of encountering people dancing at any place in Zimbabwe at any time, but going deeper into the meaning of those dances, can one manage to pinpoint that the dances on display are purely Zimbabwean, and if so, what is the template or yardstick that defines such?

For starters, when the late famous musician James Chimombe sang in one of his songs that, "Ndisiyei zvangu nditambe jikinya, jikinya maworesa . . . jikinya haimbonyadzisa (Let me dance the jikinya dance. I am not ashamed of showcasing it)," he was actually expressing pride in a dance that is associated with the Zimbabwean people.

The dance is widely practised around many parts of Zimbabwe although it might vary according to area, hence the various derivatives and connotations.

It is in the same vein and the desire and need to preserve this rich cultural and traditional dance that the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe saw it imperative to partner with Delta Beverages and mooted the hugely successful Jikinya Dance Festival concept.

The aim of the festival was to promote and preserve the traditional dance which has been practised by our forebearers in Zimbabwe for ages, thus making it one of Zimbabwe's time-honoured dances and definitely one of the dances that go down into archives as a purely Zimbabwean dance.

Apart from Jikinya, one of the closest dances that make up Zimbabwe's colour and flavour is mbende jerusarema widely popularised by the people of Mashonaland East province although it is diversely practised anywhere else in Zimbabwe.

A people move from one place to another, dances have also without doubt evolved and have been fused with other influences from one area to another and it will not be surprising to note that dances from Matabeleland have amalgamated with those from Manicaland or any other region for that matter but still retaining the Zimbabwean roots.

Dance, after all, tells a story of a people and people are the same wherever you go within the Zimbabwean sphere.

However, modern trends have also crept into the dance mode that it boggles the mind to actually see whether some of the dance styles that are being exhibited today are Zimbabwean or not.

It then also begs the question that, is it a case of, "nothing takes place in isolation", like what the greatest thinkers and philosophers, Karl Max and Frederick Angels said in one of their books, "Collected Works"?

This is so because foreign influences have also crept into the Zimbabwean dance mode, with the closest and most common example being that of rhumba, hip-hop, break dance, lacing our dances.

In his latest album, "Kwatakabva Mitunhu", sungura musician Alick Macheso makes a bold declaration that he and his group Orchestra Mberikwazvo pioneered popular dances such as Borrowdale, Razor Wire, Slomo and the latest Kochekera.

Noting can be taken away from the creative juices that were at play behind the coinage of Borrowdale dance because it clearly shows that it was inspired by the canter or fast trot of horses at Borrowdale Race Course, which is situated in the plushy residential area of the same name in Harare.

That qualifies the dance to be Zimbabwean.

Dendera music has also had its fair share of unique dances that are exclusively for that genre, dating back to the time of the late Simon Chimbetu, the doyen of the beat, to the current crop in the form of Allan, Suluman, Tryson, Douglas as well as other artistes who are following in the same path.

"Dendera dances were hugely derived from the mannerisms of the hammer kop bird and as time moves on, we are creating new dances inspired by what we see around us and our desire to relate to nature through our dances," said Douglas Chimbetu, the latest dendera music find.

No wonder Suluman Chimbetu stole the heart of the Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife Management, Francis Nhema, with one of his dances which he named "Rhino Dance" in that it simulates the stature of a rhino.

On another note, the current crop of female dancers in the form of Beverly and Zoey have admitted that their pole dances are an import.

"I am probably the first dancer in Zimbabwe to practise pole dance which I learnt during my time in South Africa. I learnt it from some white people based in South Africa and decided to bring it back home as a way of introducing something new and unique," said Zoey.

Those in the know are well aware that pole dancing has its roots in the Western world and some other parts of the world and is largely practised at strip-tease clubs.

In Zimbabwe, there is no such thing as strip-tease dance and when the pole dance craze took Zimbabwe by storm, many were quick to note that stripping had indeed come into Zimbabwe through the dance.

However, Zoey and Bev denied such allegations, saying their pole dancing was clean and merely a form of entertainment.

Sandra Ndebele once defended her dances as being in sync with Ndebele traditional dances and a way of "keeping culture alive".

"Young people who live in the cities don't know about their culture, they sit at home all day watching television and listening to Western music...

"I'm only 24, but I've got a vision whereby maybe one of these days you'll see women walking in town in those Ndebele traditional outfits.

"How many people dance like me? From America, Beyonce dances the same and parents still buy her CDs for their kids.

"From South Africa, (the late) Lebo used to dance the same way. People bought her CDs.

"There are those who see me as a sex symbol and there are those who see me as an African woman out there to revitalise culture," she said on BBC News online in 2007.

This then raises the question of what parents think about dances and whether they would want their children to practise some of these dances and whether they deem them as suiting into the frame of what is deemed as Zimbabwean dances.

"I don't have any problem with my kids practising any dance, for as long as it is pure and reflects our identity as a people. Behind every dance there is a story and that is the reason why we have harvest dance, rain-making dance, hunting dance, war dance and so forth.

"Myself being a gospel artiste, I always try to come up with my own dances that reflect the message in my songs and these should have a religious slant, and by religious I don't mean boring, as some people might want to believe.

"The onus is upon us to revive our traditional Zimbabwean dances and also revamp them to move with the times without taking anything away from them because if we dilute them with foreign influences, we are taking away the meaning of ourselves as a Zimbabwean people," said gospel singer Tryphin Tigere-Foya popularly known as Mai Foya.

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