Nothing in my life previous to this trip could prepare me for this level of exuberance and primal immediacy in human movement. As I take my baby steps in Argentine Tango I am treated to a connection with my partner that is pure magic; in Salsa, I feel a playfulness and sex that stirs the senses. This ….. is altogether different. To have the drums pounding out a rhythm that fills the clearing with a percussive presence in your chest, head and loins; to watch the dancers moving as if they were pure rhythm manifested in human form; to feel as if even you, a spectator, were a part of the earth from which this dance came….. my god.
Sure, we all got up and danced at various times. And it was fun! No doubt about that. But we were very much out of our element. I even had the dubious honor of over-staying my invite on the sand and being led back to my place on the periphery by a couple of grinning, new-found friends (Madou, the leader of the Pioneers/girl scouts was one of them). My travel mates say it saved my life and I tend to agree with them…. I would have been trampled as immediately after I was led away the rhythm and speed of the line of dance picked up to an insane pace.
The dances the first afternoon started with a performance by the pioneers (the girl scouts) and then the Moribayassa dance by the old ladies of the village (the foolishness dance where the women act like clowns and dress accordingly to honor the people or the diety that has let their request in life come true – http://www.thesmith.org.uk); and then the afternoon masked dance with the Namani. The Namani (the Hyena) dance starts with masked dancers in the shape of domesticated animals …. the hard workers of the farm. As the hard work was spoiled by theft and mischief, the Hyena evened the score by stealing from those with ill-begotten rewards and giving back to the hard workers.
The afternoon masked dance was amazing in the daylight, but when the night came, so too did the Ceblenke dancers and a magic hard to describe. These night dances were lit by the light from a small generator-powered bulb and the glow from the fires surrounding the clearing. Both evenings saw us gathered in the clearing watching the spiritual dancers pay homage to their ancestors through exuberant and gymnastic dances. The conductor called out each dancer and asked them how much they honored their ancestors, and in this case, Wague for the work done with the village. The dancers responded with ever more incredible leaps and twists, moved on by the effort to prove that they indeed did give the appropriate level of honor.
The last evening brought out the Kono (bird) dancer. The Kono is the symbol of knowledge and the link to the beginning of the universe. They say that the creator gave each bird a single word of the story of creation and that if we could understand the language of birds, we would know the story of creation by listening to them all.
The last dancer to appear on this last night was the spinner, representing the power of the circle in Mali culture; strength, capability and achievement. This crazy dance was the perfect ending to our last night as we watched him spin his way into a dizzying pile of costume.