She was forming the rhythm with the very air. Her hips, elbows, feet and hands beat an invisible series of drums surrounding her body. She was creating the rhythm of three beats. Her limbs listened to separate sounds, followed the voice of different drums and expressed themselves as individuals. The dance was wild but expressed coordination. Cooperation. She was a community in harmony.
For some reason as I relived the moment, I was struck by a monologue from the Vagina Monologues. It’s a very rough monologue, called “My Vagina Was my Village”, about Bosnian women refugees telling their story of repeated rapes. In it the woman speaking calls her vagina her village. She describes the happy aspects of village life and contrasts that with moments of brutal rape— her village being attacked. Though Essombe’s dance and a monologue about a vagina village are as far removed as a moon made of cheese. I think my perception of Essombe’s body as a community sprouted from the idea.
And why on earth am I speaking about vaginas on the Internet?
I wanted to see if I could. I did an interview with a member of the Women’s Collective at Thompson Rivers University recently and she said that we all need to talk more about vaginas. Relax the concept, break the chains and speak of the issues. I agree. So here’s my short rant since it fits my perception of the latest event.
Jacky Essombe greeted the crowd with an excited grin in the Clock Tower Alumni Theatre on Thursday March 21. With Yoro Noukoussi, Nawcro Franco and Josiane-Laure Nodjom accompanying her onto the stage, Essombe began to dance—the African way.
Prompting the audience to show some energy, she handed out an array of imaginary fruit to the crowd hoping to liven it up.
“So these are coconuts,” she said as she motioned tossing fruit to audience members. “Be careful,” she told the chuckling group. After showing the crowd how to trill out their joy as they do in Africa, Essombe moved into sharing various dances and songs.
“Nobody goes, nobody leaves, bar the doors!” she shouted as she motioned for the audience to stand and dance.
Using Zangaléwa, a popular song familiar to audience members through Shakira’s Waka Waka song but originally created by a band in Cameroon called Golden Sounds, Essombe strung the performance together.
There was a brief entertaining story from Yoro Noukoussi about a lion prowling around a village. As the lion approached the village a man on watch saw it coming and ran back to warn the villagers. Beating his drum he told them to hide. And hide they did. In any place they could find.
The lion searched high and low but didn’t find anyone so he left hungrier than he came. Seeing him leave the man who beat and shouted the warning earlier informed the villagers that the lion was gone. “Come out, come out! It’s time to rejoice! He’s gone, he’s gone!” Finishing the story, Noukoussi beat a merry tune to bring the scene of the villager calling his friends out of hiding to life.
Then the audience was introduced to the shekere an African instrument made from beads woven into a net surrounding a dried gourd.
Following closely behind was a gumboot dance. Now the gumboot dance has an interesting history. As Essombe told it, the dance originates from the mines of Africa where many male citizens were conscripted from all over Africa. With their different backgrounds the men didn’t share a language, so they would speak through a dance featuring the boots they all wore. Gumboots. The bosses soon caught onto the dance and made competitions from it. The dance is still in practice today.
Essombe spoke about the various uses of the calabash: how it is used to transport water, make instruments and other uses.
“Maybe sometimes we had to pull you by the ear,” Essombe said near the end of the show to the audience. “But we are so proud to share our culture.”
Essombe was born in Cameroon and later moved to Paris where she was shocked to find that people are less comfortable with dancing. She relates dancing to getting acquainted with people.
“When I see a group dancing, I can see if they get along,” she said after the show when I interviewed her for the Omega, an independent student newspaper at TRU.
“Now we have different dances, but originally it was a way to get to know people.”
Essombe said she was used to the lack of dancing by the time she moved to Vancouver.
I have to agree that most Canadians are uncomfortable with impromptu dancing. Essombe spoke of dancing during recess and as she fetched water in her youth.
The closest thing we have here is flash dancing and movie musicals… When I jokingly told her we only dance here when we are drunk she said, “that is not you dancing, that is the alcohol dancing.”