Transforming into Ugly

Let all the violence and anger from your past run wild

Today, I took an African dance class on whim taught by Nora Chipaumire. She taught us a dance she had made back in 2008 regarding the revolution for independence in her homeland, Zimbabwe. It was interesting because as we learned her dance, we got to learn more about her character and history. Unlike ballet, where the dance is mainly graceful and elegant, this dance was the culmination of all of a nation’s mustered up violence. Chimurenga, the name of the dance, (which in Shona, stands for both revolution and cry) had nuanced emotions of just pure rage. Nora explained how it might be difficult for some to fully relate to the dance, as the dance culled heavily from her past having survived a revolution.

What stuck out most to me was how important it was to feel the emotions while I danced. I needed to let violence, contempt, disgust pulse through my veins. In the choreography, there were instances where we had to lift up and stick out the bottom of our foot (equivalent to flipping somebody off), throw rocks, wipe off blood and froth from our mouths. To be completely honest, it was startling and even scary to see Nora transform into a completely different person when she danced. But I wouldn’t say that this dance was beautiful. In fact, It was ugly, and I could feel the hatred leaking from as she danced. She told us about her experience with apartheid, her childhood growing up in time of political tension, and it struck me when she offhandedly exclaimed “You promised us independence.”  At the same time though, I was amazed at how well she was swayed me. Using dance as a medium, she told her story and passed a part of it onto us. “Everybody has violence inside of them, no matter how hard you try to suppress it. It is part of our human nature.” I could emulate how she felt in her past, and in a sense, I was performing vicariously through her life.  I wouldn’t call myself a violent person at all, but she convinced me to open myself up to play with the idea of it. What if I was violent? Let’s see, something along the lines of: HEY! YOU KILLED MY FRIENDS. FUCK YOU. 

This type of dancing was a type of zen, but rather manifested hatred instead of peace. She told us to truly perform her dance, we had to transform into a different character. Nobody should be able to tell that I was the same person dancing. But it’s not just about transforming yourself, it’s also about how you can transform your audience. Today, it was through African dance, and I want to explore story telling in other types of dance, music, poetry, spoken word, etc.

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Author: Sam Shih

Hi I'm Sam! I'm from San Francisco, California and am currently a sophomore at Swarthmore College interested in Computer Science, Philosophy, and Religion. On campus I sing in the choir, give massages to stressed students, and lift weights. You can catch me crawling the interwebs or writing about positive psychology, self improvement, and my college experience on my blog (samshih.me)

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