Africa in Motion
The National Museum of African Art has incorporated visual arts programming into its museum education to create an invigorating and stimulating learning environment in which children, adults and families can discover and appreciate the profound cultural traditions of Africa.
On July 11, 2007, in front of a lively audience, Kankouran West African Dance Company delivered an exciting and engaging performance. Despite the day being one of the hottest of the summer, the performers had more than enough energy for high-powered kicks, stomping, shimmies and drumming. Between dances, Artistic Director Assane Konte spoke proudly of the 34 members in his troupe. He explained how the drum-based music and the dances tell the history of Africa. He also spoke of the importance of children and community, and he even invited young audience members to come up front and join in the dances. This local dance company, based in Washington, D.C., has been an integral part of the dance community for over 20 years.
Watch a video of Kankouran Dance Company in action
at the National Museum of African Art
Assane Konte, a national of Senegal, West Africa, is the founder and artistic director, choreographer and costume designer for the dance company. Konte began his dance training at age 12 and studied with many prominent traditional dancers and musicians throughout West Africa. Those teachers/mentors, born in Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo and Senegal, were key to his development as a multitalented artist. His career as a professional dancer began at age 15 with the Ballet Africaine de Diebel Guee of Dakar, Senegal. During his 10 years with the company, he electrified audiences with his performances while he simultaneously developed his own movement style. In 1978, following a tour in Côte d'Ivoire, where he worked and performed as a guest consultant for a local dance company, Konte came to the United States to pursue a career as an independent performer and worked with numerous organizations as a musical arranger and choreographer.
The term African dance refers mainly to the dances of sub-Saharan and western Africa. The music and dances of northern Africa and the Sahara are generally more closely connected to those of the Middle East. African dance is closely connected with African music. A central trait of African dance is that it is polycentric. This means the shoulders, chest, pelvis, arms and legs move according to different rhythmical components of the music or even add rhythmical components of their own. This results in energetic, complex movements "inside" the body and makes for lively performances.
In African dance, the drumbeat provides the rhythm that holds the dancers together. Although drums in more recent years have become decorations and popular souvenirs for tourists, their primary function remains their role in cultural activities and rituals. In villages throughout the continent, drums supply the "heartbeat" of the community. Such is the power of drums to evoke emotions and to touch the souls of those who hear their rhythms. Coming together in response to the beating of drums offers a sense of belonging and of communal solidarity. It is a time to connect with each other, to be part of that collective rhythm of life in which young and old, rich and poor, men and women are all invited to contribute to society.
Additional Links for African Dance:
All images from the
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art