15 May 2011

White Girl Can't Dance

Dancing is a huge part of Nigerien culture.  They dance when they sing.  They dance for weddings.  They dance at ceremonies.  They dance.

At first it seemed like there wasn't much to it . . . it was more like rhythmic hip and arm swaying.  The more you get into it, the more you bend at the waist and the stronger you pump your arms.

But it's one thing to watch and appreciate and enjoy Nigerien cultural dancing.  It's another to be forced to participate.


Here, to show one's support, you show up.  Your presence at an event or activity speaks of your intent and involvement.  Come an hour late and stay for twenty minutes . . . no problem, you came.  But I have found that to be a rule by Nigeriens, for Nigeriens.  Because if it applied to me, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to come and be there and watch.

But oh no.  Every time there's an event happening, I somehow manage to find myself being pulled out on the dance floor.  It starts with a very innocent CongaLine which then turns into a highly skilled series of steps and turns all the while moving the rest of the body in beat with the music.

You know that old saying 'Those who can do, those who can't teach'??  Well, there's reason I'm an Occupational Therapist.  I teach people motor skills because I DON'T HAVE ANY!  So put me in a circle of women dancing and it takes four seconds flat to know 'one of these things is not like the others'!

Friday was Women's Day here in Niger.  The national holiday that declares the freedom and value of women (disclaimer: because of the extreme amount of considerations I have to take when writing this blog, I am practicing an extreme amount of self control and not commenting further on the freedoms and value of women here).  Friday morning, many of our female staff marched through town during a parade and ended at the hospital where they sang and danced outside of the administration building.  Then the femme forte de la pharmacie gave a speech.  She spoke about the cultural oppression of women, and how because girls are taught that a woman's place is in the home, they are denied education and are married off at a very young age (legal age is 14) . . . they endure great suffering in the home, and female circumcision is still present in some villages.  She ended by enforcing that Nigerien women are the backbone of this culture and they need to stand up and speak out and end the oppression against women.

It was wonderful.

Then the dancing started again . . . and I was pulled into the circle.  It wasn't pretty.  I escaped as quickly as possible, hopefully without leaving too many sprained ankles and scuffed knees in my wake.

But to top it all off, last night I went to youth group at the church.  It's really just choir practice with a fancy name.  Since it was my first time and I don't know any of the songs, I figured I'd just sway back and forth with everyone, since it's showing up that counts.

After a few minutes of snickering by the boys in the rows behind me, my friend S. pulled me next to her.  She commanded me to watch her feet.  She pushed my hips and pulled my arm.  'Un . . . deux . . . un . . . deux.'  She said.  I tried.

It was either very funny or very painful to watch . . . but everyone seemed well enough amused.  S. has promised to come over to my house and teach me how to dance, Nigerien style.  (I'll try to set up a hidden camera, as I'm sure that process will be visual comedy!)

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