This article is part of a series documenting my 2020 journey to Gorée Island, Senegal. For the Hungarian translation, click here. For others in this series, click the Africa category on the left side bar. Thanks for reading! © 2020, all rights reserved.
Just days after my New Year’s gig was cancelled due to renewed government restrictions on social gatherings, I walked to the top of the island for lunch as I’d done several times and would do many times more. After this lunch I felt the urge to move and shake off the heaviness of pigging out. Conveniently, I happened to be wearing my RakasaFit™ gear. I swear, I didn’t plan this, and yet somehow I suspect my mischievous subconscious participated.
Fallou saw my gaze at the empty space across from where we’d gathered and asked if I wanted to go dance. I responded timidly, thinking of how silly and out of place I’d be. “Go,” he said. Well, I’ve never concluded a lunch at someone’s house with a personal RakasaFit™ session, but moment by moment as I plugged in my music, the idea of this began to feel more and more natural. And I’m sure all the spontaneous dance, music, and art happening all around added to my feeling of welcome.
Almost immediately I was joined by a girl, and then another, and then more came. They followed every single move, nuance, and gesture, like parrots with the spoken word. I immediately switched out of my inner world and into teacher mode, and saw the unforgettable light and joy radiating from their faces!
RakasaFit™ is normally a 50–60 minute workout, but as I tuned into their motivations and energies, songs were added and repeated and thus we trained for two hours.
At that point I could see they’d arrived at their sweet spot between learning saturation and happiness, so I concluded our lesson for the day. Later that evening, it was decided I would arrange a mini-show with them for the New Year’s Eve gathering on Goree! The flame had ignited.
Throughout the next two weeks, I created a 15-minute presentation of three choreographies. I’ve always noticed how mesmerized kids become when veil is added to the dance, so I arranged to find fabric in the colors of the Senegalese flag and had veils made for them.
As our practice proceeded, I became fascinated with how the kids learned. Initially and overall, they didn’t seem especially concerned with breakdown and details of getting it “right” and were happy to follow along and figure it out with their astute observation skills. Then, after a few sessions, a few of the girls began asking for verification on technical details, thus I used this as a time to go over such details with everyone.
It made me reflect on how we learn language in childhood -- initially we just speak what we learn and don’t ask why; then years later our grammar lessons come and we learn the logic behind it. It occurred to me that the elevated joy I was observing among these girls was a result of their lack of concern over whether they were doing it correctly or not; there was no notion of failure.
I also discovered that the learning approach and format of RakasaFit™ had particular resonance with the kids! The method of visualizing and creating shapes with the body resulted in immediate understanding and served as exactly the shortcut intended. The repetitiveness also added to the fun -- as they became more competent each time we repeated a combo, I observed their creativity and level of joy increase. And the overall “cardio” effect of RakasaFit™ was a perfect outlet for unloading the massive amounts of energy they’d accumulated throughout their school day.
In the process of learning about their learning approach, I also became aware of what to let go of. I realized that anything that impeded their experience of pure joy was to be discarded. I relaxed my attempts to maintain their stage placements, as I could see this was not relevant to their interests and motivation. Symmetry and visibility of dancers onstage is an aesthetic for the audience (and quite possibly more for Western audiences). I also learned to relax expectations of when and how the event would take place and who would participate. As this was a very informal effort during the pandemic, we had to make the best of very limited resources. And as the availability and schedule of kids is dependent on parents, reliable attendance wasn’t possible. But no matter what or when or whatever the outcome, we were all gaining immeasurable enrichment from this magical venture.
Thus, although disappointed at first with the cancellation of my one-of-a-kind New Year’s gig in a spectacular Dakar venue, when this sweet new project popped up I found myself feeling relieved with the change, for I would not have been able to dedicate my focus on it while also preparing and performing the gig. And this project now has a legacy. There is talk of me returning to Goree to repeat it on a grander scale. Regardless of whether this happens, the seeds have been planted in these wonderful girls. They now carry the spirit of this dance and the possibility of its evolution in their community, on Goree Island, but of course!
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