A couple Saturday nights ago my older sister Karna (who is 18) told me in the morning that there was a “soiree” that night in a village not far from ours where we could dance Senegalese. In the States I am usually very self-conscious when I dance since, even though I would say I am naturally good at sports and athletic activities in general, I don’t have the natural dance rhythm/flow/whatever so I have never really danced very much. I have, however, danced a fair amount in Senegal – it is a very popular thing here and my family loves it when I make a fool of myself by dancing with my little nephew or trying to dance Senegalese style (by imitating my sisters or their friends). (The ability to feel comfortable with making a complete fool of yourself should be a pre-requisite for Peace Corps Volunteers.) In any case, when my sister told me about the soiree, I was really excited.
When she was getting ready for it she told me to go and change into pants. I told her I didn’t have any good pants here – she said yes you do, I just washed them yesterday. She was talking about my hiking pants. Not exactly what I would consider dancing pants, but I guess if I can climb mountains in them, I can dance in them, right? My older brother, Modou, was gracious enough to drive Karna, our friend Djerie, and me to the soiree in his taxi. We left the house around 11pm. The soiree was in a large-classroom-sized cement building (maybe the school for the village?). There were 2 big speakers along one wall and a big floodlight (with a shirt over it for mood lighting) with the DJs along another. Opposite the speakers were mats (the same ones everyone uses to sit on outside – or inside for that matter) that people were relaxing on; along the wall opposite the light/DJs were chairs that people were sitting in. (It is very important to set the scene.) :)
There were a lot of people in the room. The mats and chairs were mostly full, as was the dance floor. The majority of people dancing were guys in their late teens and early to mid twenties. (One common theme in Senegal, and a large majority of Africa for that matter, is that there are not many single girls/women in the village that are in their late teens either because they’re married and have kids already or because they’ve left for a larger town/city to go to school or (more likely) to work as a maid or cook or something of that sort to help support their family back in the village. This is why most of the people at the soiree are young men or older boys and girls.) When we got there most of the songs were American-style hip-hop and rap, so I felt “comfortable” dancing to them. The women that were there really enjoyed coming up and dancing with me; the guys did to, but Karna and I did a good job of keeping them at a distance and they were very respectful of that space.
Around midnight, though, a bunch of new guys came into the building (including Djerie [he had been hanging out outside before] and other members of TawaFall’s football team) and the music changed to distinctly Senegalese music. It is impossible for me to describe this music for several reasons (many of which include my inability to articulate sensual things – such as what I hear – very well and my limited musical jargon knowledge). If you really want, you could try finding Senegalese music on YouTube – I’m sure you can find stuff there (though I don’t know how similar it would be to what I heard). Anyway, when the music changed I was sort of taken aback since I didn’t know how to dance to the music very well. This was fine for the most part, though, because the guys took over. The 6 or 7 guys from TawaFall that Karna and I knew formed a small circle (that included us, too) and danced away. I just stuck with very basic dancing and watched them show off their stuff. And they certainly have stuff to show off. I would love to bring my small video camera to another soiree and try to get them dancing on video – not sure how practical that is for many reasons, but I really hope I can do it at some point in the next 2 years here. Very regularly one of the guys would step into the middle of the circle and do a special move or short dance that was particularly outstanding – I was continually impressed. I don’t mean to say that the women can’t dance – they certainly can! I’m just more impressed by the guys because men in the States typically can’t dance as well as women. The TawaFall guys really liked it when I said that they can dance better than men in America. Needless to say the time passed very quickly and it was 2am when a girl came in to tell Karna, Djerie, and I that Modou wanted to go home and go to bed (he had been chatting outside the whole time). What a night! Can’t wait for my next soiree! :)