Mamawe! May 2015

I have been a bit rubbish with this blog. Not that I haven’t been busy – I think that my posts had just got longer and longer, with more detail, and they were taking a long time to update. From now on, I think I will concentrate on shorter posts, with more pictures. I’ve been to a lot of festivals and events, and I’m also now editing my second novel, which is very exciting!

Here’s one I made earlier though. Back in May, my friend Angelina Abel ran the latest of her Mamawe Multicultural extravaganzas, combining dance and drumming workshops with a good night out.

Dancing is good for the soul

MAMAWE! 9th May 2015

The gloomy effect of the General Election result meant that I woke up on the morning of MAMAWE! with a heavy heart. The weather wasn’t doing its best either – but MAMAWE! was just what I needed – a day of African drumming and dance, and an evening of performing with dance group Mulembas D’Africa, reggae and boogying into the night. The title of the day, MAMAWE! was just right, as it’s a multi-purpose African expression of frustration, anger or triumph.

Sheffield based dance teacher Angelina Abel has been developing MAMAWE! for over two years now. Since establishing African fusion dance classes with live drumming and funky Angolan Kuduru street dance lessons in 2008, she has been on a mission to bring the best African dance and music teachers to South Yorkshire, and has built up a company of dancers who regularly perform at events such as Chance to Dance all over the region.

On Saturday 9th May, Angelina brought members of the prestigious Allatantou Guinean dance company all the way from Portugal to teach us in the colourful surroundings of the hall of the Sharrow Old Junior School.

Drummer Joao Russo taught a large circle of eager djembe players, from beginners like me, to some of Sheffield’s drum teachers and enthusiasts. For a beginner, it’s sometimes hard to keep up the rhythm – you get absorbed into it, and then suddenly overthink and lose the beat, but there were enough of us to keep up the complex drum-beats, and when Angelina started dancing along, I knew that the overall effect must have sounded good! Joao’s enthusiasm and friendliness was infectious, and he made sure that we played varied drum patterns. I was concentrating so hard, I was amazed that the two hours had gone by so fast, and the drum patterns stayed in my head all day.

There was time for a short break and to change into my dancing shoes before the class by choreographer Joana Peres. Her bubbly personality shone through the class, along with her love and passion for African dance. She threw us into learning a dance routine, and we were soon practising our moves up and down the room before putting it all together. I sometimes find that when I find dance moves difficult, I get frustrated in a dance class and think that I must be the only person getting things wrong! I felt a bit like that at MAMAWE, until I realised that everyone else was also learning and getting used to the steps – it’s all part of the process, and I ended the session feeling like I’d achieved something, not least conquering my own fears and hang-ups!

In the evening, the members of Mulembas D’Africa gathered in the Royal Standard pub beer garden to practise the dance routine we had been learning since February. Our last-minute rehearsal went well, despite the pub’s dog running circles around us! The area in front of the stage was cramped, but the audience crowded in to get a good view.

Joana Peres, Angelina and Mulembas D’Africa members wowed everyone with energy-packed samba-inspired dancing first, and then Angelina took to the stage to perform a poem about the vivid colours of Africa. The pub’s dog didn’t want to miss out on the action, and ambled up to smell the drum skins before being gently steered out of the way! Angelina remained passionate and professional throughout her recital. Our dance routine went smoothly, and we received appreciative applause before we scrambled out of our long grass skirts into our everyday clothes to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Reggae band Truly Apparent are becoming a firm feature of the Sheffield music scene – two female singers, backed by some great musicians. They sing their own songs, complimented by well-chosen covers, with a lovely inclusive sing-along feeling that had the whole audience bopping around.

After the band, DJs Papa Al and the Globologist played a set of funky world music from Africa to Latin America and Eastern Europe to round off the evening nicely!

Coming next…my belated account of Bearded Theory 2015!

MAMAWE! A celebration of African Music and Dance.

Dancers Angelina and Sarah at MAMAWE! Tired but happy.

Dancers Angelina and Sarah at MAMAWE! Tired but happy.

It means “Oh my god, this is all getting too exciting!” Or “Oh my god, this is all a bit too much for me!” I’ve felt like that in both senses recently. But I’m starting to feel a sense of excitement again. Knowing that I’m part of a vibrant community of creative people in Sheffield and beyond really helps, and on Saturday, my friend and amazingly talented dancer, Angelina Abel hosted a celebration of African music, dance and food.

Angelina has been teaching dance for over five years now. She had always been a great dancer, and would always try to make me learn moves when we were out together. She dragged me to salsa classes, which I wasn’t too sure about, and to bellydance, which I came to love as much as she did. In her Angolan Portuguese family, everyone can dance, and from the start of our friendship, Angelina managed to convince me that I didn’t have two left feet. She’s turned her passion into dedication, getting on National Express coaches at stupid times in the morning to spend her weekends in dance training. And she’s also built her own dance school, Mulembas D’Africa. We’ve performed in Sheffield City centre, Bakewell, and in a gazebo in a muddy torchlit park at Sharrow Lantern Festival. 

Learning to dance has improved my fitness, helped me to make new friends, given me confidence and relieved a lot of stress.

On Saturday, we helped Angelina and to arrange chairs and hang beautiful printed African fabric on the walls of the Sharrow Old Junior School, an old school hall which is now part of a community centre. The speakers and turntables were in place and people taking part in the drumming workshop gathered together. I selected a beautiful djembe drum and managed to balance it between my knees. As a vegan, it’s a bit weird to be banging away on a goat skin drum head, but the drums look and feel beautiful. In case you were wondering, this is how a djembe is made:

Drum tutor Souleymane Compo led us in a two-hour long drum lesson. I was completely absorbed and I loved it. There were beginners and more advanced drummers in the workshop, and the class covered quite complicated rhythms to remember. I was really pleased that I managed to keep up. For the first half of the class, I concentrated intently, and then I slipped into a sort of trance, just focussing on the rhythm that we were playing. When we’d finished, I was surprised that my back was aching from bending over the drum.

More people were now gathering, for Abram Diallo’s dance class. Here he is, teaching a class in Bristol, and you can see what an amazing mover he is! Abram is from Guinea Conakry in West Africa and he’s been dancing from a very young age. Tall and wiry, he seems to have boundless energy and effortless grace, which is probably why he became a choreographer by the age of eighteen. He made us work very hard, as he says that there’s no energy and life in half-hearted movements, but he was also very entertaining. The routine he taught us, with live drummers, was based on a rhythm I’d danced to in one of Angelina’s classes, so I was familiar with the slow rhythm changing to the fast and furious. And I managed to keep up, without getting my arms and legs in a complete tangle!

Abram also told us about the meaning of the two rhythms: Yankadi is slow and laid back; a women’s dance; and Abram seemed to really enjoy dancing “like a beautiful young girl”, to show us how it was done. Macru is the fast part, where the young men join in with the dance. At the end of the session, Abram gathered us into a semi-circle around the drummers and made sure that we all took turns and did a solo dance, which was exhilarating, in such a large group with so many talented dancers.

After a cool down, I was ready for a meal from Miss Adu’s Kitchen, run by Chaz, another friend who has taken the plunge and gone freerange (literally), as she’s started an African-inspired catering company with the aim to “Entertain, Educate and Empower through everyone’s need for food and laughter”. She cooks great vegetarian food as well as some meaty delights, and I felt like I’d definitely earned my dinner!

The entertainment wasn’t over, as Angelina, dancer Bekki French and the talented Kweku, joined forces for a comedy dance routine, introduced by Angelina’s young nephew and friend. Her nephew proved that dance really does run in the family with his impromptu routine to ‘Hey Now’ by Outkast. The irrepressible Sarah Khouchane from Maskara Dance in London rounded off the dance performances with a showcase of traditional Algerian dance and electro swing, her acrobatics wowing the audience.

The performances were rounded off by some rousing Punjabi Dhol drumming from the wonderful (but shy – honest!) Tanya Stanley. Papa Al and the Globologist took over by spinning some beats from around the world. The dancefloor filled up with people trying out new moves.

It was an exhausting but exciting day, and I’m really looking forward to the next one! Angelina has worked really hard and created a network of performers and creative people from all over the world. She’s has brought people together to build a really special community here in Sheffield and I’m really proud of her.

There will be more photos linked to this post soon! I couldn’t take any of the drumming and dancing, as I was too busy actually taking part!

The dance of life

Dancing at Shefftival, August 2013. I'm on the left!

Dancing at Shefftival, August 2013. I’m on the left!

I’ve been learning to dance for six years. I was encouraged to go to a bellydancing class with a friend. At first, this seemed like an enormous step, even though I considered myself confident in other ways at the time.

Me? Dance? But I can’t dance (unless I’ve had a few drinks)! But I went along to the bellydancing class at a local sports centre. In my first class, I was so nervous and stood right at the back of the room. But I loved it. After a few classes, I was eagerly standing at the front, keenly watching every move of the dance teacher and trying to master every hip-drop and shimmy. I adored the long, flowing skirts and jangling coin-belts and soon realised that there was no going back. I couldn’t just bop around on the dance-floor any more – whatever I was dancing to, I had to try out new moves and fancy foot-work. As I realised that I had the ability to learn dance routines, I discovered that dancing is a wonderful work-out for the brain as well as for the body.

I’m forever thankful to the friend who dragged me along to the class, and also my bellydancing teacher, Cis Heaviside, one of the Boomshanka bellydancers in Sheffield. Full figured and proud to be a goth, Cis explained her own journey in learning to dance, as well as the cultural history of bellydancing and the moves. For example, the Saidi Hop move was originally danced by men, and the women learned it to “take the Mick” out of them!

The friend who encouraged me to start dancing is the wonderful Angelina Abel, who started the Mulembas D’Africa dance school  in Sheffield and I’m proud to say that I’m one of the most enthusiastic members of her dancing tribe. Thanks to both teachers, I’ve taken part in many dance performances and I’m guaranteed to get up on the dance floor even if sober!

On Wednesday, we had our first dance class for a couple of months. It was brilliant to see fellow dance-class friends, including two people who had returned after becoming mothers. We practised our moves and I realised that Angelina is now blossoming into a wonderful teacher, encouraging, inspiring and providing a safe, friendly environment to dance, learn and most importantly to laugh. We started working on our new routine. As usual, I struggled with some of the moves and felt frustrated with myself and a little ashamed! I’d positioned myself right at the front and at one stage I was thinking: “What possessed me to dance at the front of the class, when I’m clearly the most rubbish dancer in here? I can’t even work our whether it’s my left or right arm I’m supposed to be moving!” But I took a deep breath and focussed on learning the moves at my own pace, without comparing myself with anyone else. It worked, and I was soon enjoying myself again.

At the end of the class, we took it in turns to perform the dance routine in front of the others and I realised that lots of other people were using the wrong arm or leg. After all, we’d been dancing these steps for less  than an hour. It didn’t matter. It’s all about learning. It’s important to make mistakes; to learn; laugh at ourselves; get out of breath; get sweaty and wake the next morning with a serene mind and aching muscles. The most important thing is to have fun and to give new things a go.

A few years ago, I thought that I had two left feet and no dance ability at all. I would have never guessed that by 2013, I’d have danced several times on a stage, in front of a paying audience. And that could apply to anything: if you’re scared of learning a new skills, try it anyway, have fun and see what happens!

Things this blog is about…