Call for Book Chapters, Women and Dance in Africa: challenges and persepectives

Due December 27, 2020

Taking up a career in choreography presents a two-fold constraint for the African woman: historical and cultural. Historically, African dancers have always been subjected to Western discourse. For instant, as soon as the West came across the first black female dancer, they judged her art as “perverse, rough, lascivious and favoring night orgies” (Jeurissen, 2003:13). From the black American Josephine Baker’s savage dancing in which “she had an excessive make-up, (...) screwed up her eyes, puffed out the cheeks, (...) and left the stage crawling, stiff-legged and completely broken” (Rose, 1990 : 35 – 40), the choreography of women of African extraction “became, from its look, a sex appeal” (Jeurissen, 2003 : 13). There was thus no hesitation equating the female dancers with prostitutes. Unfortunately, it is to this prejudiced discourse that the recognition of the arts and performances of dancers from the African continent will be assimilated, in the aftermath of the colonial period,

Many studies concur with this point of view. Lefevre (2011), Bourdie (2013, 2016) and Ngoba-Mwanza (2018) discussed African choreography from different perspectives but made similar submissions. While Lefevre (2011) studies the perceptions of contemporary African choreography, Bourdié (2013) looks into the recognition problems faced by the African choreographers and asserts that the quest is on in the West. Though these two authors agree that African dancers have devised strategies for the legitimisation of their art, Bourdié (2016) notes that these contributed “not without some superiority complex, to the rooting of common opinions on black bodies amongst the Western spectators as well as in the productions of these artists.” Ngomba-Mwanza (2018: 111), drawing attention to Africa as not only limited to the Sub-Saharan countries, but also including the Maghreb, thinks that the ‘African dance’ formula be re-construed prior to any relevant recognition. For this author, the formula, in its current use, “is the product of a discourse on Africa which denies the continent any self- assertion aptitudes, chokes and looks down on the various dances, and, again, denying them any legitimate existence in time and on a territory as large as the Eurasian block”. Thus, these works address interesting issues on stereotypes against Africa, deeply rooted in the ‘European primacy’.

Culturally, dancing is perceived in Africa as a natural practice that goes along with the stages of life, from birth to death, and also in memorial celebrations like ‘funerals’ in its Cameroonian sense. It is not mere leisure, but a part of all-important social activity. Reducing it to a profession would therefore not depict its full picture, as all turn to it when the need arises. This explains the contempt for those who opt for a career in choreography, especially the female gender.

In a sense, the two-fold constraint is one: the desire to obtain, from the West, a recognition that is almost impossible in Africa, gives room for prejudice from this ‘Other’. In spite of all this, a good number of African women have engaged in choreography and do endure the related stigmata. From the pioneers to the more recent generations, they include : Germaine Acogny (Senegal), Ketty Noel (Haiti), Judith Olivia Manantenasoa (Madagascar), Dada Massilo (South-Africa), Syhem Belkhodja (Tunisia), and, Liza Ngwa, Elise Mballa Meka, Werewere Liking, Chantal Gondang, Tchuimo Gladys, Messina Effouba Sylviane and Agathe Djokam.

Another important problem is little attention paid to sexual harassment, maternity or marriage, real challenges for professional female dancers. While some give up their careers because of sexual pestering, many are denied access to training projects, a residential status or partaking in creation, simply because they are married or pregnant. Again, a number of them reject maternity on account of the dancing insecurity related social pressure and the post-partum morphological distortions. Many in this condition get unwanted in the constantly renewed teams in institutions of cultural cooperation. These are the difficulties that could sensibly justify their unfelt presence, 10 years ago, in the ‘Danse l’Afrique Danse1’ Africa and Indian Ocean choreography encounters. Out of the ten collective performances shortlisted for the encounters, only two African female dancers featured, and there was none in the solo performances. However, increasingly, they have developed hybrid choreographies, introduced noticeably original creations into the African and international scenes, created self-managed training centers or festivals. This gives them a better stand in the cultural and creative industry.

In the early years of the 21st Century, what are the issues, the new challenges and the perspectives for female choreography in Africa?

This project aims at harnessing reflexions, analyses, testimonies on an art little known on the continent, into a collective textbook. Explorations could include the following, and beyond :

  • Female dancers in Africa and in history

  • Matriarchal dances, ritual practices and performances in Africa

  • Museum practices and matriarchal dances in Africa

  • African female dancers in the other arts and media

  • Female bodies, costumes and props in African choreographic creations

  • African female choreographies as geopoetic of space.

  • Men in the choreographies of African women

  • Women in dance: training, production, distribution and circulation

  • Socio-economic issues with female choreographers

  • Being a woman, a dancer, a wife and mother in Africa

  • Testimonies on/by female choreographers.

Submission of proposals

Proposals of 15 pages or so, including the title, the university affiliation and contacts, a 250- word abstract in English and/or in French, and a short biography (150 words) should be sent simultaneously to: Chamba Nana Mireille Flore : and Fotsing Mangoua

  • November 04th, 2020: Release of the call 
  • December 27th, 2020: Deadline for abstracts proposal 
  • January 30th 2011: Notification of acceptance 
  • March 30th 2011: Deadline for the reception of full chapters 
  • June 30th 2021: Deadline for the reception of full chapters after review 
  • October 2021: Book Publication

CHAMBA NANA Mirelle Flore, Research Center for Spaces, Arts and Humanity Studies, University of Dschang 

FOTSING MANGOUA Robert, Research Center for Spaces, Arts and Humanity Studies, University of Dschang