Black History Month in the Dance Community
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Welcome back movers, and happy Black History Month!
I’m sure I am not alone when I say this month has been a roller coaster of emotion, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Even now I am writing this from my bed, fully encompassed – burrito style - in blankets with a warm tea and pack of cookies. But I have found comfort in movement, as so many dancers do. This idea of healing through dance is what I would like to focus on for this upcoming month; and in honor of Black History Month, I sought out stories that can connect the societal importance of this celebration of culture, with my personal attempt to just feel better.
Here is some of what I found:
In 2015, Vinesett, Price, and Wilson published the article “Therapeutic Potential of A Drum and Dance Ceremony Based on the African Ngoma Tradition”. Now I have read many articles and seen plenty of research around Dance Movement Therapy and the like, however the majority of this research is based around contemporary or creative dance practices. This paper was one of only a handful with a more specified dance practice and one of even fewer based in a non-westernized dance form.
Not taking away the validity and importance of these more – quote, unquote – common practices, doesn’t the lack of variety limit our growth as dance scientists and a dance community as a whole?
In this study seventeen participants, the majority with chronic illnesses, participated in a modified version of the Congolese Zebola ceremony from within the Ngoma tradition, combined with focused meditation or prayer. They were then asked to reflect, both individually and within a group, on their experiences with this process. Sixteen of the seventeen participants described their experience as a positive one: with benefits ranging from stress reduction, feelings of support, and increased exercise tolerance. And though none of the participants were previously familiar with these practices, there was no reported discomfort with the forms. From the analysis of participant reports, researchers posed that it is worthwhile to expand Global Health programs to “consider the potential benefits of transferring technologies in both directions rather than only from technologically advanced countries to less technologically advanced ones.”
Let’s talk about the tradition of Ngoma.
*Disclaimer: Due to the Eurocentric basis of language and western education, these definitions and understandings are incomplete – as indigenous practices hold foundations in oral and practical, rather than written, history.
The word Ngoma ranges in translation from “song” to “drum” and “dance”, depending on the specific language and culture where it is being used. This practice is used around Central and South Africa as a way to allow people to confront issues, including physiological and mental illness, entertain, and worship through the use of rhythm and movement. The Congolese specific Ngoma tradition of Zebola, that was adapted for this study for this study, is focused on healing. The use of these practices for wellness in westernized societies helps to bridge gaps not only in physiological and mental wellbeing, but also in philosophical and political frameworks. Recognizing the value and validity of ALL cultures and their practices within the science community will only benefit progress. Bodies can find ways to heal what they need healed that make sense for their own interests, abilities, sensibilities, and tendencies. Participants willingness to explore movements and experiences different to those found in their everyday life, only led to an increased wellbeing.
We encourage you, as dancers, educators, scientists and researchers to dive deeper into each topic you study; aim to find viewpoints from multiple sources and provide different options to serve everyone. Knowledge that comes from limited sources, is incomplete and only hinders progression both personal and societal.
The BodyKinect Team