Heather in Senegal

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Six months ago I met Musan Diouf and then promptly forgot her name. The next time I saw her she gave me grief for not knowing her name, so I made up a short tune and was singing both her name and her son's as I walked away. I didn't see her again until this week. I would not have recognized her face, but when she sang, "Musan Diouf, Badu Dialo," at me, I peddled back to greet her. She said she's called out my name a few times in the past but gotten only a vague wave. So many people call my name as I bike through town that if I do not know the person well I just wave and bike on.
Musan was coming from a wedding party. Still very much in a festive mood, she danced in the path as we spoke. I joined in and she laughed at my pitiful attempts at the local moves. She tried to reassure me, promising I have potential. She told me that if I came back to her house the next day she would teach me the Sabar, the dance performed at weddings and baptisms. I have seen this dance many times. It is done while a man or men drum, and it looks like arms and legs being thrown out to all sides at once in a complex rhythm.
When I showed up the next day Musan had a few friends over, and all were eager to see me dance but shy about dancing themselves. Finally a man, Mose, came by, and they all swore he was the best dancer. I thought they were joking with him, but he agreed to teach me. Musan's compound has a cement platform that is raised two steps off the ground, and this stage-like structure was where Mose decided to have the lesson. Before we even started, an audience of ten little kids had gathered.
He began by having some of the girls sing and clap a simple tune. He danced beside or in front of me, and I tried to copy his moves. I kept getting tripped up. I have a tough time watching his feet and communicating the motions to my own, and I also got confused trying to guess which head and arm moves were specific and deliberate, and which were just arbitrary swings. Mose does not speak Pulaar, so the lesson was given via charades and rudimentary sounds of approval and dismay. Mose finally found a series of moves that I could copy, and he wove them into a routine. I got roaring cheers when I finally did the routine start to finish. I was able to see myself on Issatou's video-cell phone, flailing like a muppet with a huge smile on my face.
At first, folks in the compound watched and alternatively laughed and cheered, but eventually the lesson faded into a background event. When the audience went away, Musan and her friends felt more at ease, and the lesson changed into a bit of a dance competition for them, and a phenominal dance show for me.
I've been back a few more times for lesson. I like how informal it is. I show up, Mose and I go to the cement platform, a few girls make music, and he teaches me moves until the evening soap opera comes on tv.


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