Photo Essay: Learning to live with intent through West African dance

Sunday, March 29, 2020 - 9:25pm

Melissa Saucedo dances with elegance.

Melissa Saucedo dances with elegance. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

As crowds of students rush from one class to the next, eat in dining halls in the next building, and run hard on treadmills only several feet away, a unique form of energy is unleashed in Studio B of the dance building. As a freshman, I had no idea the dance building had existed until I signed up for West African Dance this semester with Imani Ma’at AnkhmenRa Amen and Marwan Amen-Ra.

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The first thing that Imani emphasized to our class was the connection between our dancing and the music. Before this class, I had very little experience dancing to live music. The moment class starts and Marwain begins beating on the drum, the classroom is transformed.

Marwan Amen-Ra leads the tempo of our dance with the sounds of his drum.

Marwan Amen-Ra leads the tempo of our dance with the sounds of his drum. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

We were quickly taught of the power of ase. It was described as an energy, a frequency, a spiritual connection of sorts. It is that moment when you are thinking of someone just for them to call you seconds later. In class, the idea of unity and connections between individuals is emphasized daily. It makes it difficult to believe that hatred and violence can exist when we are embraced in so much kindness, joy, and passion.

McKendra Perry dances to the sounds of Marwan’s drums.

McKendra Perry dances to the sounds of Marwan’s drums. Buy this photo
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Ngozi Aroh. Jocelyn Ortiz, Gabrielle Bernal, and Jessica Loechli dance in unity with each other.

Ngozi Aroh. Jocelyn Ortiz, Gabrielle Bernal, and Jessica Loechli dance in unity with each other. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

We start each practice by honoring our greatest muscle - the heart. As the warm energy created by the friction in our hands is transferred back into our hearts, we are reminded of the importance of remaining present. This space allows us to do just that. We are completely immersed in ourselves. I become aware of every joint, muscle, and blood flow within my body. Energy appears to course through me without end.

Dylan Sivin embraces all of herself through dance.

Dylan Sivin embraces all of herself through dance. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

Melissa Saucedo dances with elegance.

Melissa Saucedo dances with elegance. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

Imani reminds us that we all have something to be grateful for each day. I am a skeptic, I will admit it. I want to believe in the energy around me, the concept of a rites of passage, and that our ancestors exist to protect and guide us. However, I am also an engineer. Throughout my life I have had an internal conflict between my passion for science and mathematics and my spirituality. Yet, Imani made a strong point. All energy is conserved. It is never created. There is an energy that exists beyond our limp corpses. Once we become aware of it, we stop existing and we begin living.

Imani Ma’at AnkhmenRa Amen  dances with energy as she teaches us the next dance move.

Imani Ma’at AnkhmenRa Amen dances with energy as she teaches us the next dance move. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

Lydia Johnson honors thyself and thy ancestors.

Lydia Johnson honors thyself and thy ancestors. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

As we dance, Imani constantly asks us what our intentions are. In life, everything we do should have a purpose. When we start living with intention, we grow happier. This can occur in the smallest of forms, such as when we pick out cereal for breakfast. When we start living with intent, we gain a deeper sense of ourselves and our energy. 

 

Dancers lightly move across the floor during class.

Dancers lightly move across the floor during class. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

Sage Sherry frees herself through dance.

Sage Sherry frees herself through dance. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

Through this class, I have learned a small fraction of the rich culture in Western Africa. Dances including Kuku, Soli, Sunu, and Sinte. The history of people is embedded into the moves we practice in class. 

 

Imani Ma’at AnkhmenRa Amen dances happily with her students.

Imani Ma’at AnkhmenRa Amen dances happily with her students. Buy this photo
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Jessica Loechli dances with passion.

Jessica Loechli dances with passion. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

The most amazing part of the class is the atmosphere that is cultivated. I know every time I enter Dance Studio B I am not judged. All of my worries fly out the window as I let my body flow freely. This class continues to teach me something new each week. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join. 

 

Ngozi Aroh kindly helps Lydia Johnson put on her lapa before class.

Ngozi Aroh kindly helps Lydia Johnson put on her lapa before class. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

Marwan Amen-Ra cultivates a unique energy through the sounds he creates from his drum.

Marwan Amen-Ra cultivates a unique energy through the sounds he creates from his drum. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

We end our class by honoring the drums out of respect.

We end our class by honoring the drums out of respect. Buy this photo
Pauline Rajski/Daily

 

Each class ends through the honoring of the drum as is tradition in West African dance. This class has been my favorite one taken at the University of Michigan. I highly recommend every person experience this class at least once during their studies here.