One of the sirens’ calls that first got me into teaching dance was the notion that I could make my own mixes with all this new to my ears music that was coming my way. From the continent of Africa especially. This excitement along with needing to structure a mix along an aerobic hear rate curve was very compelling.
I spent a lot of time counting the beats per minute of pieces and hours and hours getting a set just so in the cassette form.
Then came the CD format. Faster but still needing to have all the physical materials on hand to make something happen. Once it was burned, it was done.
Now I can make and rearrange mixes as fast as I can think of or explore a new song.
I’ve had many different goals with the musical choices I’ve made over the years but exposing folks to some of the vast richness of cultures and expressions from the African diaspora has always been one of the essential keys.
When we were first slowly coming out of Covid lock downs, working with so many restrictions, including dancing in separate taped off squares, masked and 98% virtually, many of the 100+ compilations didn’t feel right. Some sounded too big, some had too many layers of memories for me of big groups and unencumbered spaces, some I thought wouldn’t sound good on whatever home set up people were using to dance on Zoom. I didn’t try to present as if it was the same class as ever with some inconveniences thrown in. And I felt we needed music that was encouraging, nurturing and inspiring to move with in small spaces.
I now have a whole series of those that start with the letter Z (for Zoom).
This winter one of our long time dancers, Nan, who now has dementia, started joining us on Tuesdays. When I know she’s coming, I’ve gone for my most gentle mixes thinking too much stimulation might be harder. Having her there is teaching me many things. One is the kinds of music she most seems to respond to (it varies but definitely pieces with a touch of Latin flavor). And for however small it appears, how deep from within her those movements are. It feels very pure. One of the things I appreciate about her responses too, is how when she gets overstimulated she simply stops and slowly folds herself into a ball on the floor. Or makes her way to the door where her amazing husband helps her sit out for a while until she’s ready for more.
Lately as more people are able to return in person and we can use the whole room again, my curiousity, creativity and musical palette are opening up too.
Last week Ismaila Toure of the great Senegalese band Toure Kunda died. Hearing this reminded me of how their song “Salaly Muhamed” was one of THOSE songs that got me excited to start teaching with my own musical choices. I set out to re-explore some if their work and other songs from that era. That resulted in a mix I made with Nan in mind that also includes Samite, Remmy Ongala, Dorothy Masuka, Thomas Mapfumo, Angelique Kidjo…
The next one brought in more from Toure Kunda, some older some newer, a nod to De La Soul’s catalogue being remastered and released with most of their original samples (and RIP Trougoy/Dave), a posthumous piece from Ali Farka Toure, new Baaba Maal and a Janelle Monae/Seun Kuti collaboration, Kokoko!,Angelique Kidjo and a few more. I wasn’t sure this one was going to fly but it held together in a fresh way. I can’t wait to dance with it more.