Rhumba Dance and West African Dances

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Journal 1: Haitian Folkloric Dance and Breakdancing

Learning about the Haitian Folkloric Dance and Breakdancing provided valuable insights into how dance can be used to communicate a people's culture and shun social ills such as violence. Dance is a peaceful and rejuvenating way of not only passing time but also providing entertainment to people. As such, it is a mode of preservation of culture.

The Significance of Dance in Haitian Culture

The Haitian people have always appreciated the pricelessness of dance. It speaks about the dear moments in life that they wish not to forget. They dance to celebrate the birth of a child; when christening a child and even after one is dead (Anderson 120). Evidently, dance plays a central role in the lives of the Haitians. There are categories of dance such as religious and secular dancing. I was intrigued to learn that in religious dancing, people do so to appease spirits such as the Afro-Haitian Loa. Such actions are significant in making magic, exorcising demons, and appealing to the spirits of the dead. They are also used to honor ancestors and enable them to rest in peace. They believe that the soothing effect of music is needed to take the pressures of life away. Anderson further articulates that it is a way of relaxing the mind and generating positive energy (120). According to the Haitians, dance is a way of making statements in life; it sets people in motion or action. In other words, dance has therapeutic value and vitalizes the mind. Indeed, many rebellions and eventual wars were preceded by dance. Additionally, they were revolting against the slavery of the Haitian people. Even today, Haitians beat drums and dance ahead of protests or wars. It is their way of warming up and generating the needed energy and concentration.

The Influence of the Vodou Tradition

Moreover, the Haitian dance is entrenched in the Vodou, an African tradition. However, the word sometimes seems to confuse or scare people. They seem to associate the Vodou with black magic, evil, and sorcery. Perhaps such a perception has been fueled by the negative portrayal of the Haitians in films such as the Rainbow and the Serpent. In the African context, Vodou means spirit. According to Anderson, the Haitians believed that there was a relationship between the spirits and human (121). In fact, Vodou first emerged in West African countries, such as Benin, Togo, and Nigeria. The tradition was exported to the United States by slaves. Thus, the Haitian culture is also appreciated in other parts of the world apart from West Africa.

The Power of Dance in Haitian Culture

Overall, dance is a powerful way through which the Haitians communicate various emotions and events in their lives. It is a culture that has transcended many generations with no signs of dying any time soon. Breakdance is an energetic way of dancing that the Haitians prefer. It helps them to generate energy and get motivated on various occasions, such as the naming of a child, preparation of war, or resisting Western influence in their lives. They have a cultural heritage and vehemently defend their traditions. Furthermore, they believe in the unity of purpose, shared vision, and identity that dance offers. The Haitians put their fears, emotions, and grief aside and wallow in the devastating moments through dance. Dancing is a way to unwind, celebrate important timelines in their rich history, and connect to the rest of the world.

Journal 2: Rumba and West African Dance

While Rhumba originated in the West Indies, it was in Cuba that it was widely practiced and celebrated. The Cubans developed many styles on various islands, including Danzon, Son, Guaracha, and Son. Besides the impact of Latin on the Spanish tradition, folk dances of African nature would play a significant role in developing the rhumba as we know it today. The ladies particularly danced with a possessive attitude towards their men. The American rhumba is a version of the "Bolero-Son" dance (Wulff 666). That latter integrates small steps by the dancers as well as hip movements that are because they bend knees while dancing. Today, West African dance has an undertone of the rumba. The dancers adopt seductive, explosive moves. The dance is energetic and well-choreographed. Sometimes, the dance is romantic in nature and entails rhythmic body movements.

Characteristics of West African Dance

The West African dance encompasses smooth, lively, and sensual performance. The moves are particular to detail and connect to emotions in a unique way. There is an emotional and physical connection with the dance partner or other performers. The toes are positioned in such a way that they are slightly diagonal for easy hip movement and manipulation of the body. Therefore, it shares a similarity with salsa dance (Wulff 668). Rhumba is a slow dance style, perhaps because it focuses on the emotion and bodily response that should have the romantic appeal. Conventionally, rhumba music is accompanied by a steady beat and strong acoustics. Thus, rhumba is a versatile form of dance and is practiced in many parts of the world. It is easy to learn and practice.

West African Rhumba and Salsa Influences

West African rhumba adopts intervals of slow and quick steps. The initial step takes two beats while the last two steps take a beat. Given that rumba is a Latin style, dancers are required to maintain vigorous hip movements and move to it the "Cuban way." Nonetheless, the West Africans have made variations so that today they incorporate salsa movements such as checks and body leads. Dancers hold their arms in a conventional frame posture so that the two dancers can connect (Wulff 669). The leader holds his left arm at a right angle to the dance floor so that there is a tauter frame connecting the dancers. Such a position improves proximity and facilitates a natural, intimate, and romantic position that makes the dance even more involving.

The Essence of West African Rhumba

In conclusion, the insights gained were valuable in understanding the origins of rhumba as well as the trends the dance style has taken. Today, it is the traditional rhumba that the West Africans dance. They have incorporated other dance styles such as rumba for an even more exciting appeal. While it is mainly slow, it can occasionally be fast. Nonetheless, the essence of the dance is to create an emotional, even romantic connection between the dancers. The energy comes from the deep feelings they have for each other as they sway their hips rhythmically to the acoustics, the drums, and the leads. It is easy to learn and practice as long as one has the right dance partner that they can instantly connect to during the explosive body moves. Although the dance style is not symbolic of past events or timelines, it is a pop culture that appeals to the tastes of all people across all age demographics.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jeffrey E. "Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective edited by Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon S. Cleophat." (2018): 120-121.

Wulff, Helena. "Dance, Anthropology of." (2015): 666-670.

September 11, 2023


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