Choreographer Germaine Acogny, who runs the Ecole des Sables in Senegal, teaches her dancers/pupils to search for their roots in order to create something new.
Germaine was barely ten years old when her uncle, the mayor of the island of Gorée, asked her to dance for the first time. It happened sometime in the 1950s, in those times the island from which you can see the profile of Dakar on clear days, was not a symbol of slavery yet, neither had it become a tourist destination. The island of Gorée therefore was just a peaceful island of fishermen. Germaine Acogny grew up there, and there performed her first dance steps in front of her uncle. Her dance performances made him laugh, he called her ‘crazy’ with a stunned expression on his face while he tried to understand Germaine’s unusual dance movements.
“The spirit of dance lives inside of us, is part of our being and makes us move in an impressive and extraordinary way. That is what dance is to me. I couldn’t give a better definition”, answers Acogny when you ask her about her idea of dance.
Mother of the African contemporary dance
Germaine Acogny, who is often called ‘the mother of African contemporary dance’, runs the Ecole des Sables (sand school) in Senegal, where she teaches her style, which is a combination between the traditional African dances and contemporary dance techniques.
“I am very happy at having been inspired by Africa and having been able to give a specific dance language to this continent. This language is universal, because when something is specific it becomes universal”, Ms Acogny explains. Her method based on body expression, turns into a philosophy of life by acknowledging what one is and what his roots are.
Germaine’s choreographies, just like the traditional African dances, are nourished by the nature of human beings, by their personality. African dances are transformations. “Our ancestors, when they went hunting, transformed themselves into lions, getting the same energy and strength of these wild animals”, explains Ms Acogny. She therefore combines transformations and the most recent dance techniques – because Africa is also contemporary and modern – with her own ideas and develops her own style trough improvisations on a piece of music or a step. “Every movement starts from the spinal column, not from the hands and feet, and as in dance the spinal column is also the ‘tree of life’ of our imagination”, says Germaine. “A choreography involves both, body movements and imagination. This happens, for instance when I ask my dancers/pupils to identify themselves in a water lily or a snail, or when I ask them to rediscover and show their roots and at the same time to remain open to other cultures and express them through their own personality, their way of being”, she explains.
“Dance is innate”, says the choreographer. “Parents often tell me how their children really seem to be interested in dancing. But all children feel music and like dancing, because it is innate in human beings. Unfortunately, education systems often limit children’s spontaneity”. Germaine Acogny’s method balances the combination of spontaneity with discipline.
Germaine dances and does stretching exercises every day, and when she is in Senegal, she meditates and walks along the ocean shore; it is a sort of dance/prayer, which was created by one of her pupils. “It is a silent dance and I practice it every morning, in a hotel room or along the sea shore”. Neurologists say that we rebuild our memories when we go to and come back from them with our mind searching for their meaning.
Germaine recalls her dances on the island of Gorée and her uncle’ s laughs while he was watching her performing with joy, freedom and spontaneity. The choreographer’s sensitiveness has made her discover her own peculiarity by observing the others’ reactions at her performances. In this way she found her vocation that expresses her extraordinary talent.