November 27, 2020

Malian dance instructor teaches African dance to students at workshop

The African Student Association (ASA) held its first event of the year on Thursday, Oct. 4. The ASA held a dance workshop in the Sunnen Lounge and taught students how to dance in an African style.

ASA is an organization that brings African culture to the Webster University community. Doreen Rwigamba, secretary of ASA, is originally from Rwanda in East Africa. Rwigamba moved to St. Louis in January and said she immediately wanted to get involved with ASA.

The group died out temporarily last year due to lack of motivation from the old executive board. When an officer transition was made, the new officers didn’t know what their role was in their positions. However, the club is up and running again this year.

“We figured, ‘What’s the best way to spread culture?’ and dance is something that is universal,” Rwigamba said. “Music and dance, people can feel that regardless of where they are from. Not just watch it, but participate in it to get a feel for it.”

Dance instructor Diadie Bathily taught Webster students a dance originally from Mali in West Africa. The dance is a celebration that Malians perform during a full moon after a harvest.

Bathily described it as “running to get your paycheck at the end of the month,” because harvest is a very important time in Africa. In Mali, food banks are necessary to store food in, and harvest time means food for at least three or four months. Bathily said there is meaning to every dance people do in Africa.

“Dance and music is so part of our life and culture,” Bathily said. “Dance is expression. We don’t see it as a dance, we see it as an expression of everyday life.”

Bathily, a native of Ivory Coast, began dancing at a very early age and has been in St. Louis for about 12 years. He went to a dance school called EDEC (a school of dance and culture change) where he learned how to teach African dance. He said it is difficult to teach African dance to Europeans because it’s a very different technique that is used. Bathily taught in France before coming to St. Louis to teach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Even though he’s gone to so many different places, Bathily still misses his home country.

He recalls coming back to visit his mother in Africa, and after just a short time visiting him, she got up and started dancing. His mother told him she wasn’t dancing, but expressing herself. He said people in Africa don’t see it as a dance, but rather a form of everyday life.

Bathily started dancing at a very early age, and first was a performer. Afterward, he began teaching dance.  It was at EDEC where he learned how to teach African dance to not just Africans, but overseas as well. He has nine workshops that he teaches every Monday through Friday.

“I get tired, but not as much as I should, because I love what I’m doing” Bathily said. “If you love what you are doing you will work many hours late into the night, just like a truck.”

Rachel Bates, the treasurer of ASA, said she enjoyed learning the African dance because she enjoys learning about West African culture.

“It’s something that I think people in America don’t get to see as much, without (ASA) coming and showing it to us,” Bates said. “I feel like it’s just an education process where we get to learn more about different people and different cultures.”

The workshop generated a turnout of about 40 students. ASA hopes to continue having events such as this in the future. The ASA will host a “Breaking the Stereotypes” panel, which will allow participants to ask questions about Africa to help change stereotypes. Additionally they will have a “Taste of Africa” potluck, and an Africa night, which will be an African dance party.

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