It’s Saturday morning and I’m at one of my favorite beaches with sand between my toes, sweaty, surrounded by powerful women, and flowing to the beat of West African rhythms. This is Leida Tolentino’s West African Summer Flow Sessions, an uplifting and empowering session of dance that includes routine, partnered duets, solos, and improvisation to live drumming by Panzumo musicians.
This particular flow session focused on two traditional West African rhythms: Yankadi, a slow, feminine, and seductive dance traditionally performed by both men and women; and Makuru, a dance similar in style that takes place after the slower Yankadi.
After a lively warm up while facing Mother Ocean, each dancer was given two pieces of silk ribbon to hold in their hands. Participants were instructed to use them as an extension of their movements. Since this style is based on seduction, these props can also be used in a flirtatious fashion to single out a chosen partner.
Skipping the traditional dance studio venue for an outside experience was fitting for this style of dance. It allows the dancers to feel more connected to their surroundings — an understanding dancers don’t often develop when performing in front of a mirror indoors. Leida trusts the class to mirror her movements while giving basic tips and instruction over the live upbeat drumming.
The live music was a very unique and special part of the dance session. Rather than having to stop and start recorded music, which can be an annoying disruption in class, Leida would signal to the drummers, letting them know when to speed up or slow down, to get louder or softer. The Yankadi rhythm also called for dancer participation in vocals, an exciting challenge that increased the level of difficulty.
The choreography was broken down into four parts. The body continuously moves with the beat, feet stepping side to side while arms flow and legs stomp. The sandy setting really allowed for a great leg workout. (For those readers looking to take dance classes for the cardio, this writer recommends West African over more popular styles of dance like Zumba). Dancers were given the opportunity to then perform the choreography as a group before breaking into twos for a series of duets.
The duets were perhaps my favorite part. I had yet to take a class in Santa Barbara where the instructor allows students to partner up and create their own choreography. It can be scary and uncomfortable to perform on your own. Having students partner with someone not only promotes community and teamwork, but it also makes performing less daunting.
The class wrapped up with freestyle improvisation, where even the drummers took turns to get up and dance. Laughter came naturally and often throughout the class. West African seems to be a style of dance where people can really let loose and enjoy the freedom of movement.
Unfortunately this was the last of the Saturday Summer Flow Session series at East Beach. But not to worry, Leida teaches West African Dance every Saturday 11 AM- 12PM at Santa Barbara Dance Arts (531 Cota Street in Santa Barbara). E-mail Leida at Leida.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.panzumo.com for more information.