Afrobeats - a way to improve your bellydance, better then ballet?!? You decide.....
Updated: Sep 9
Yes, I am out here in Nairobi to Bellydance but whilst here I have been seriously indulging in another love of mine: Dancing to AFRO-BEATS! Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that even before coming to Kenya, I was a regular party animal in quite a few of London’s hottest Afro-beat Night clubs.
(Note: In this article I am using Afro-beats and African dance as an umbrella term (in a similar way that bellydance gets used as an umbrella term for MENAT dances) - there are MANY different types of "Afro-beats" coming from different African Countries that have different styling, language and beats. Much like how Turkish bellydance is different from Egyptian - but all bellydance)
My interest in this dance style and music started about a year and half ago when I made some amazing Ugandan friends and was lucky enough to be invited to a few East African parties in London. I instantly fell in love with the music. This wasn’t surprising as I was already a fan of the fashionable main stream Afro-beats which have been hitting the Western charts for the last few years – tunes like “Fuse ODG – Azonto” (Azonto is a modern street style of dance from Ghana) and more recently non-African artists such as Canadian Justin Beiber have jumped on the wave with songs like “Sorry”; a song strongly influenced by Afrobeats which even here in Kenya is regularly played on the DJ decks. Are you a Beliber lol !?!?
When I first visited the clubs I would just pull on my knowledge of North African dance (Egyptian being of course the main one) and years of experience in clubbing to R&B and hip-hop to somehow just go with the flow and bop along to the amazing East African tunes, in the least stupid way possible. But, as I found myself attending more and more of these parties I just wanted to dance more and more like these amazing, powerful, Ugandan African Women.
My friends dance skills’ are more than impressive (puts me as a "professional" dancer to shame LOL). It is something they just take for granted and have been doing since they could walk. Their control and isolation of their hips is something that even I, as a bellydancer, admired. They have amazing skills of being able to shake, "twerk" and wind their hips in nearly every position possible, and powerfully. My friends can go down to the ground and back up effortlessly and bend over in two without losing any definition or energy in the movement of their hips and bum. It isn’t just the hip work of their dance that I love. The footwork too, the way the beats are stepped out with style and swag, this all with knee control and perfectly timed jumps. And let me stress it isn’t just the women – the guys too!!
So, with the help of my friends and also by attending few Afrobeat classes (which were so hard for me to find at a time which suited my timetable and budget) I started to pick up more and more of the moves.
I now live and work in Kenya as a bellydance but, Clubbing to Afro-beats it is something that I am doing every night that I am not working. I'm addicted.
The clubs out here in Nairobi are so much fun. The people are so welcoming, the music so happening and the dance floors are full of talent. There is a buzz of life to the music and dance, and I swear you can tell just from the dance floor that Africa is the place to be. This is where it is happening; this is where the future is. Africa is not how the media have you thinking in the West! I have traveled the world and I can tell you I feel truly alive when on the continent of Africa (Egypt of course is a personal favorite).
I can’t express how much I enjoy the music and dancing along with everyone. Some of the clubs (especially those in town) have an atmosphere and feeling that everyone in there is just one big family it’s just relaxed and liberating. And I am just loving how my dance is improving! Now don’t get me wrong, I am far from good, and in no way can compete (nor would want to) with these Nairobian dance QUEENS – but I like to think I can dance to a “social” level and hey I always bring in a few Egyptian bellydance moves - a personal north African twist! I also don’t claim to know much, I am far from an expert – Africa is a large fruitful continent of different dances coming from different regions and countries etc.… Afrobeats/African Dance is an umbrella term much like the word "bellydance".
Afrobeats, better then ballet?!?
And this brings me to the main point of this blog (a long time coming I know): it wasn’t just my African dance that improved when I started going to these parties….. My bellydance improved too – and I would say by a considerable amount! In the past I had a lot of trouble with balance in my dance. I lacked confidence in going low to the ground with my moves, and also centering and grounding myself during fast travelling moves. At the time I turned to ballet classes, I had been advised by several teachers they would be a great way to improve my balance. It seems the whole dance world is obsessed with thinking ballet is the KEY - THE ULTIMATE FOUNDATION TO DANCE???? IS IT? After three terms of ballet classes, I can’t deny, I was feeling slightly more balanced but not to the extent I wanted. I was seeing more of an improvement in my oriental style as my arm movements and posture got better – unsurprisingly as oriental bellydance has a lot of Western balletic influences especially in styling.
However ….. After only what felt like a few weeks of trying to learn Afro-beat dancing (specifically East African), I saw a massive difference in my balance. My thigh strength and core muscles particularly improved and developed a lot quicker than with the barre exercises in ballet. Moves I previously found wobbly suddenly came with ease!
It got me thinking why? Why was dancing to Afrobeats in this style, so particularly good at grounding me, rooting me, balancing me? My theory (and it’s only my theory): it makes sense! Though modern, this style of dance is founded in traditional African dances - so what better way is there to root you in your dance than the dance styles form which all dance is rooted. African dances have the longest history and deepest foundations. After all, modern humans started in Africa and humans from the beginning of time have danced….. all dance no matter the style is just a (far) derivative of this (and yes Traditional African dances too have changed with time and country but are closet to origin and carry the most history). Note Egyptian Bellydance is actually a form of African dance, NORTH AFRICAN, that came from lower Africa and grew and changed in Egypt as Egypt changed. It is far more related to African dance than Ballet!
So, I genuinely believe there can be no better way to root yourself in your dance other than the root of dance itself and for that you turn to Africa.
I have included videos of some fantastic Afro-beat dances and music from Uganda and Kenya. I can’t emphasize enough, WATCH THEM, look at the amazing control, movement and skill. Also, ENJOY the music which to me it is so moving!! I hope you think so too - ENJOY!
I END WITH A SPECIAL SONG one that is very hot in Kenya right now and playing in all the clubs:
LIVE AND DIE IN AFRIKA
I was lucky to meet the main singer of this band: Sauti Sol, here in a club in Nairobi!!! And to the message of the song I say - AMEN...
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