Updated: Jan 25
Cultural arts, Fine arts, Community arts and the music + dance industry has been known to help to shape the identity of a nation, even of a civilization, and here in Australia it is no different. A cultural and 'for purpose' national identity is more important now than ever, as irreversable climate change moves in on us, and the health of the planet and inhabitants becoming at risk... dance now plays an increasingly larger role than ever here in the country that holds the oldest living civilisation on earth. And this is all without mentioning the black lives matter movement gaining traction in 2020...
Photograph of Mzuri Dance performance, Harmony Week Premier Gala, Melbourne Convention Centre. Dancers represented here are artists + students from Fitzroy Community at Atherton gardens and Mzuri dance teachers and musicians. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Mzuri Dance reflections September 29, 2020
"To interpret, recognise or experience ancient rhythms, songs + body movements that tell a story or sends a message, in my opinion, is to dance with the cosmos" Suzie Mzuri Watts
The new black + slow artform that always was. MZURI DANCE·TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2020
It is becoming more and more part of our language and mainstream consciousness - to acknowledge music + dance arts for their therapeutic value. For mental health, physical health, spiritual healing, social connection and well being and the list goes on. Is it time to look back and recognise this part of our evolution. Songlines, oral histories and the messages they pass on are organically embedded in black ancient dance, rhythms + songs from our oldest civilisations. It’s long overdue to acknowledge the social + earth caretakers of the past + openly chat about their wisdom + take time to learn + value their skills + stories. Afterall, the earth was in natural balance for 65,000 years in their care. - As Tyson Yunkaporta refers to as the “knowledge keepers” ( Sand Talk).. and I couldn't agree with him more! Although I was born in Australia I have experienced these songlines via the African belt of our evolution. Living & training first hand in Tanzania, South Africa + other regions of Africa + the world, dedicating my life to practicing these beautiful artforms, I have witnessed the growth of my students’ life as they practice over months, years, and yes, even decades + the transformations that comes from practicing African music + dance. And so I have seen first hand the value of embodiment of learning ancient patterns and a form of communication that expresses a message that is beyond written words. In addition to my dedicated study of African music and dance I have my family in Botswana + Australia where we live with our two beautiful children. Therefore I live and experience traditional ways of living when we are living in our village amongst family and the farm. When I was studying drum song & dance in Tanzania in Bagamoyo Arts College I had what I might call an 'Initiation' in my first month & learnt this beautiful & very intense story of trauma, hope, healing, regeneration, working together as a team & gratitude. The dance was called Mganda Wa Kikutu & it has 3 main parts like a 3 act ballet. It starts telling the story of an ambush in the region of Morogoro. The people in the village lost almost everything including their loved ones, as well as crops & their homes. Those that survived were in a state of grief & trauma & didn’t know if they could stay on the land as there was nothing to eat. But they decided to stay on the land & rebuild their community. Their dance & song tells of their heartache & the lead sings “can we do this, can we get through this?” The response is “yes yes we can yes yes we can yes”. It continues on with a dance representing their first harvest where they sing & dance – our teachers said if we work really hard all together good things will come to us. Then they pick the fruits + cut the maize of their first harvest & dance in gratitude with their baskets full. It is such an exhilarating demonstration of gratitude & appreciation.
Here is a break down of 5 aspects of how learning African dance + music can support us and our future role as caretakers for earth and humanity...
1. CONNECTION Dance/drum/song practice increase’s your connection to self + others + your community. Humans are social creatures by nature & this time more than ever we need to engage in authentic connection to each other. The dance & rhythms connect us and communicate with us. They also allow us to connect with ourselves which can in turn help us to be ready to connect with others. The message or story can also be abstracted and interpreted depending on audience/ participants experience which invites more communication and in essence, we can share our experiences + have more chance of feeling visible + feeling heard.
2. OUR HEALTH On all levels our soul, mind + body are being nourished & LOVED. We have all the happy hormones being activated, we are expressing ourselves through our body + voice, we are generating blood circulation, pumping oxygen through our heart, feet & head, clearing stagnation + creating flow & function with our heart, mind & body. Even the breath is coordinated with the song + dance in some traditional songs I have learnt which forces you to exhale for longer in a pattern which creates a sense of well-being + calm.
3. OUR EARTH
Building transformative care for our children’s children.
The stories & the practice of the music & dance brings learning ancient ways of being, connecting to the land brings opportunity for change, transforming our consciousness for slower, more mindful living + holistic care of our home (planet earth) + her’ inhabitants. We only get this ONE chance + we are only 30 years away from irreversible destruction. ( Greta Thunburg, Science) ( Sand Talk )
4. SUSTAINING LIFE Quality & Quantity of your life is increased with cognitive improvement. Maintaining your age + keeping ‘dis-ease’ out of mind + body activating left + right brain + refining motor skills creates new neurological pathways in the brain, warding off dementia.
5. FOR JUSTICE + EQUALITY + HUMANITY Black lives & indigenous communities acknowledgement. Black lives – the biggest game changers & influencers of the 19th, 20th & 21st century in music dance & popular culture through the diaspora. (encyclopedia.com) Stand up & acknowledge black lives influencers from thousands of years ago until now.
THIS IS WHAT DRIVES ME EACH DAY TO CONTINUE LEARNING, TEACHING + PRACTICING AFRICAN MUSIC + DANCE.
Mainstream acknowledgement is the next step in transformative consciousness around the world.
Thanks to all the Mzuri dance folk for 25 amazing years of dance and music with you all! I dedicate this writing to Mwalimu Elizabeth my dance teacher at the Bagamoyo Chuo Cha Sanaa, Tanzania 1994, + Dr Charles Osir Ogada who co-founded Mzuri Dance Fitzroy Childrens Group in early 2000's.
Thank you to Lori Curran #thehumblenook https://www.thehumblenook.com/ who introduced me to Sand Talk, how indigenous thinking can save the world, by Tyson Yunkaporta
Thank you to African Communities Foundation Australia, King Bell + Soukous ba Congo, Randy + Jah Roots, MAV, Afrovival, So Kalmery + Musiki Manjaro + AMCF + CMY for all the collaborations, mentorship and opportunities.
Written by Suzie Mzuri Watts Suzie will be a featured presenter of her Hypnotic African Rhythms workshop at Seven Sisters Online Festival 2020, which is the largest women’s wellbeing festival in the world. Thanks for your time, and I hope I meet you in a dance or music event soon. 💚