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Art

‘African Goddesses’ taps dance folklore to honour women

Wangui wa Kamonji
Wangui wa Kamonji performs during the Re-Imagined Storytelling Festival at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi last year. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

African Goddesses is a thematic dance series at Karen-based Bric a Brac gallery in which Wangui wa Kamonji choreographs dances to memorialise female deities.

“We are looking at different African deities female ones from a couple of African countries and the diaspora and exploring the traits, qualities, energies and characteristics of these deities and how we can embody these energies in our own lives.

“I am calling it discovering our own divine feminine,” she says.

Ms Kamonji, who has been teaching dance since 2015, jokes that she first started dancing in the church at age five.

She then danced during music and theatre competitions in high school before travelling around the world to learn and teach.

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“If I am sitting somewhere and there is music I just begin to move so I think part of it is somewhere in my DNA. My body loves to move,” says the dancer who has also taught choreographies in Brazil, Mexico, Tanzania and the United Kingdom.

As she travels, she savours the opportunity to learn traditional African dances from different countries.

“What attracted me to in particular folkloric dances was a search for histories and cultural knowledge that I found I didn’t have growing up and through school,” says Ms Kamonji.

“There’s journeys through African histories using dance. A lot of the African traditional folkloric dances usually tell certain stories so we use different stories to engage people in African histories and to open up discussions and transformative dialogues around freedoms.”

Ms Kamonji, who has a masters degree in African Studies with Environment, finds that the dances are a way for her to explore nature.

“Many of the dances that are folkloric have some natural element to it so there might be a dance for certain farmers who revere a certain plant as sacred.

“Like coffee in Haiti is really important and there is a dance on how you plant, clean, harvest it and so forth,” she says.

“I focus mainly on traditional African dances from the continent or the diaspora. I can do modern African dances like the Gwaragwara, Odi and Shakushaku but I focus on the traditional and the folkloric to revalorise those art forms, show that they still have something to teach us and show what value they have in terms of connecting to different cultures, to spirituality and to our histories.”

Ms Kamonji, one of those lucky people who can say dancing “just came easily for me,” explains her creative process.

“When I am sitting in random places like in matatus, I am thinking about dance. These orishas [deities] also have particular beats that go with them like Oya is the goddess of wind. I am thinking about wind energy, flow, movement, clearing, change and all of those elements of wind and they play around in my body,” she says.

“Sometimes I am just seated in my house and I am playing the music and something will strike and I just get up.”

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