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Senegalese Rhythms Attract Japanese Dancers

  • Phuong Tran

In the West African country of Senegal, drumming and dancing are popular in the streets, but not so much as a profession because making money at it can be hard. But while few Senegalese study traditional dancing, interest for these rhythms has grown overseas-especially Asia. Reporter Phuong Tran attends a dance course in Senegal for Japanese students, and has this report for VOA.

Senegalese dance teacher Pape Moussa Sankho faces about a dozen Japanese dancers. Not speaking each other's languages, teacher and students communicate through the drums and chants in both Japanese and the local Senegalese language, Wolof.

Midori Okura, a dancer in a long yellow wrap skirt with a matching head scarf, steps into the middle to face the four drummers.

Okura leaps with gravity defying, acrobatic jumps. Her arms swoop wide and body swivels in tempo to what the drummers play. When she finishes her routine, she bows deep to the drummers and steps back.

Speaking in Japanese, the dancer says she has been dancing for 20 years in Japan. Okura says she first heard the Senegalese sabar rhythm played on long narrow drums at a show in Japan.

She says she heard from a friend about Sankho's class in Senegal, and has been coming for the past four years. Okura says she now teaches sabar dancing in Japan, and that she wants to bring her students to Senegal next year.

Dance teacher Sankho says he met a Japanese dancer when he performed in Japan with the National Senegalese Ballet company five years ago.

From there, he says he started offering her and others these annual workshops in Senegal, now attended by dozens of Japanese every year.

The group pays about $6,000 for one month of full-time instruction.

Sankho says Japanese passion for African rhythms and culture drives them to dance as well, if not even better than Senegalese people.

Sankho says local people become more interested in studying dance when they see international students coming from so far to learn.

But he says many Senegalese still say they cannot dance.

Sankho says people who say this simply do not have enough passion.