DANCING FROM AFRICA & APPALACHIA
DANCING FROM AFRICA
with Willy Souly
People are flocking to West African classes across the country. Students are enticed by the sounds of the drums, exhilarated by the movement and want to come back for more. Each dance has a meaning and function, so they are also learning about the many different cultures within West Africa. In Burkina Faso alone there are more than 60 ethnic groups, each with its own language, instruments and dances. Listening to the music, one may hear sounds that are reminiscent of reggae, salsa, highlife or Afro-beat.
Wilfried Souly, from Burkina Faso, teaches in the World Arts and Culture/Dance department of UCLA. He also gives class at Your Neighborhood Studio in Culver City, where he sometimes has eight drummers—the better to whip up a feeling of celebration. He has also studied with French contemporary choreographer Mathilde Monnier and performed with Victoria Marks and Heidi Duckler in Los Angeles.
- Souly uses the music to get his students to relax. "They have to not use the body to carry the movement but let the movement take the body where it needs to go," he says. "When you pay attention to the music, you find that it's all connected: The music carries the movement, and the movement carries the music."
- Getting low to the ground is essential. "Being grounded helps students with the fluidity. If you straighten your knees, you are high, and that doesn't bring enough fluidity in the movement." In Souly's own training, he had to be reminded to stay low. "When I started dancing, my choreographer would say, 'Willy, bend your knees; Willy, get low; Willy, down.'"
- He notes that attitudes toward gender are evolving. About the traditional initiation dance mendiani, he says, "Nowadays all these dances are genderless. Girls will be doing the same step as the boys, but the emphasis is on the hips, while the boys are putting emphasis on the chest."
DANCING FROM APPALACHIA
Running sets with James Hutson, calling and Sausage Grinder
Taught by Ruth Alpert
Flatfoot and Buck Dancing (related to clogging) are the traditional, solo, percussive dance forms that go along with Southern Appalachian Mountain Music – fiddles, banjos, guitars, mandolins. The dancer’s feet are a rhythm instrument, keeping the downbeat for the musicians with much room for personal expression and style.
Ruth was introduced to the music and dancing of the southern mountains in 1969, at Don West’s local festival in Pipestem, West Virginia. It went straight to her heart and never let go!
She has taught workshops, danced with old-time Appalachian string bands, busked (street performed) in various cities in at least 6 states. She won the National Championship in Senior Buck Dance in 2013 and 2014 at Uncle Dave Macon Days Festival in Murfreesboro, TN.
Currently, Ruth is the percussion section of The Honeysuckle Possums, an all-female string band playing original and traditional music.