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Ghana in London: Nzinga Dance

For the latest in our World in London series, we put on our dancing shoes and spoke to Deanna Michel-de Sousa, leader of African performing arts ensemble Nzinga Dance, which teaches African drumming and dance at south London’s Horniman Museum

What does Nzinga Dance do?

Our main remit is bringing African history, culture and tradition to life – telling its story with dance and music. The classes are about coming along and learning traditional dance and drumming – and about their importance in African culture – but in a fun and creative way.

We do lots of performances at the museum and elsewhere too – for Refugee Week, Adult Learners’ Week, at summer festivals… We’re not just at the Horniman!

Are all the Nzinga teachers Ghanaian?

There’s a mixture of people, mainly Ghanaian and a couple of us from St Lucia – the one person that isn’t is from Pakistan, so there you go! We’re an African-Caribbean group but a lot of what we teach and perform is from Ghana.

Ghanaian dance is a big part of what we do. In terms of African dance culture, Ghana has prolific dancers and musicians. You have one country but within that country so many different nations – whether it’s Ewe, Ashanti or Ga – and each has their own style. You find literally hundreds of dances and that’s what’s quite unique about Ghanaian dance and drumming – there’s a lot to learn and pick from as well. So within one course, we may say to people we’re teaching Ghanaian dance but that can include completely different styles.

Who comes to your dance classes? Ghanaians living in London or a mixture of people?

We get a mix of people, although we do have Ghanaian students who come along that haven’t learnt so much about their culture in that respect and just feel that they really want to touch base and learn.  It’s nice that people want to come along – both Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian – and learn about African culture in a creative way, and in a really social atmosphere.

What do your students think about the course?

Most of them say they enjoy coming along because it’s a non-competitive atmosphere and they feel that what they’re learning is authentic. We can be specific – we can say you’ve learnt Kpanlogo dance from this place in Ghana – and they like that feeling of knowing what they’ve been taught and the significance of it in history and culture. For example, that when I’m dancing this step, it means this or that.

I think we get lots of students, too, because of the live drumming [the djembe drummers who accompany the dance classes]. Not knocking anyone who uses a CD, but I think it being authentic is a big part of drawing people. I think that’s why we’re still going strong.

See Nzinga Dance (and their students) perform at the Nzinga Dance Ensemble Concert on 27 March 2011 at Horniman Museum. The next term of Nzinga dance and drumming courses for adults and children at Horniman Museum begin on 1 May 2011.

Do you know anywhere else you can experience Ghanaian culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.