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Dance, morality and self in urban Senegal

Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach, University College London

Wednesday 18 May at 5.30 pm

In Dakar, in predominantly Muslim Senegal, dance is tabloid matter on a daily basis. Indeed, dance is regarded as morally ambiguous: on the one hand, certain genres like the Wolof sabar form an integral component of key moments in social life, from rites of passage and therapeutic practices to the competitive activities of youth clubs. Skilful dance has the power to transform persons. On the other hand, dancing in certain styles in public may put one’s reputation at risk, and is only considered appropriate in certain contexts (family ceremonies, women’s rotating credit associations) or when performed by certain categories of persons (griots and other hereditary groups of artisans). In these contexts, conventional norms of female restraint are suspended, and dances may be highly suggestive. This is a time when participants may savour the pleasure of play and experimentation, and when suggestive dancing may be explained away by invoking the agency of forces outside the body.

Against this background, what is at stake in the growing popularity of dance as a livelihood? When dance is practised as a profession, every move becomes exposed to public circulation through videos and social media. In addition, choreography requires careful attention to the creative process, which undermines the notion that movement may be generated from outside the body. Attention to the creative process is particularly important in contemporary dance. How, then, may young dancers achieve social recognition despite the moral risks involved? I suggest here that framing contemporary choreography as work on the self enables performers to achieve a measure of social recognition at home, but that success in the transnational performing world often remains elusive.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to http://kringelbach.eventbrite.co.uk