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  • Writer's pictureKemi OG

6 Tips to Master Afrodance for Beginner and Intermediate-Level Dancers

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

Learning Afrodance is fun. And things get even more fun when we have a cheat sheet in the back pocket. Here are six tips to keep in mind that can help you learn, train, and perform better in Afrodance.

 

Please note. I am not a medical professional, so I am not making or implying any medical or physical claims in these tips. These tips are tricks I've picked up or developed while training and learning new styles and moves and from years of watching myself and others dance. This post is a live, imperfect document that's on a journey too. It will constantly be updated and edited as I continue to learn and grow. Thanks!

 

Tip 1: Hold Your Core


"Holding your core" means being aware of the skin of your belly and visualizing a force holding your stomach together.​ It helps with balance and having more control over moves, especially when you are changing levels. (See tip 5 for details).


The default almost always is to hold your core.


Tip 2: Bend Your Knees


Most Afro dance moves and choreographies are grounded. Bending your knees:

  • Allows more space in your hips to create bigger and more precise waist movements and lower body moves.

  • Helps you transition more quickly and safely when doing footwork.

  • Enables you to keep balance while you are doing footwork.

  • Puts less pressure on your knees while turning and pivoting.

The default almost always is to bend your knees.


Tip 3: Be Mindful of Your Heels


Being mindful of your heels means making a conscious note of the placement of your feet in a move or choreography. I often find myself on the balls of my feet, but sometimes I'm consciously flatfooted or on my heels depending on the dance move. Here are a few examples:

  • Being on the balls of my feet could help me transition more quickly during footwork or reduce the pressure on my knees when pivoting or turning.

  • Being flat-footed could be a stylistic choice when I want to be more grounded, or I'm trying to portray a move in a more powerful way.

  • Transitioning to my heels could be dictated by a specific move like one of Galala's legwork variations.

  • Transitioning between all three while dancing could be a creative choice while I'm freestyling or adding my spin on a choreography.

When learning a move, pay attention to where your teacher or choreographer places their foot and how it changes with the movement or choreography. While training and freestyling, pay attention to how you naturally stand to see what feels more natural to you. By understanding what you naturally do, you can embrace it to find your style or adjust it to match the guidelines of the dance style you're performing. You can be creative to add variety to your freestyle game or adapt to meet your teacher's or choreographer's rules.


The default almost always is to be mindful of your heels.



Tip 4: Isolate


Isolation to me (within the context of Afrodance movement) means having one part of your body doing a specific movement. When we get to more complex moves and choreography, it means having two or more body parts doing different movements simultaneously. Think patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Isolation could be as big as a hip rotation or as small as flicking your wrist. Even your facial features could be considered isolations. When an Afrodance move seems a little complex, think of it as a collection of isolations: what is each part of the body doing? Break it down and practice each isolation separately until you are familiar with each piece, then practice trying to do them together. Not only do you learn a move, but you also learn to be more creative with how you do it: you can adjust each piece as you like during freestyles.


Isolations don't happen all the time, but they happen very often.


Tip 5: Levels


The idea of levels is a concept I first got exposed to from Meka Oku (@meka_oku) while taking one of his Afrohouse classes. However, it can be applied to many other Afrodance styles, and it can be helpful while trying to break down the details of a choreography. A level is how low or how high we perform a move. ​There are typically 5. (Note my breakdown of levels might be slightly different from what is taught in Afrohouse):


Level 2: When we are reaching to the sky on the balls of our feet (think relevé in ballet)

Level 1: When we are standing straight without bent knees

Level 0 (Default): when our knees are slightly bent (see tip 2!)

Level -1: When we are in a deep squat

Level -2: Knees on the floor and anything lower than that (floorwork)


Some dance styles, like Afrohouse, and some specific African dance steps or variations can dictate what level they should be performed. A lot of the time, though, it is a stylistic choice to add variety to a freestyle or choreography.


Tip 6: Watch Your Back


"A dancer's back holds the secret to the groove."


- Kemi OG

(I made it up while writing this, and it makes perfect sense. Free me.)


Do you know that thing that separates some dancers from others? Where you can see one person doing an azonto, and it looks authentic, and another person makes the exact same moves, but the essence isn't there, and it looks like a completely different move with the same steps? What is the difference between them? You might find the answer in the person's back. In this case, the term "Back" relates more to posture, how a dancer carries their upper body, and how that posture extends to their elbows and arms. Are the shoulders held further back while the neck held forward? Are the shoulders close to their ears? Where are the elbows? Is someone crouched over or standing tall? Are there any small isolations happening? Like a shoulder roll or a kind of "back and forth" motion that we find in Bikutsi and traditional Igbo dances? Sometimes mimicking a teacher or choreographer's back while learning is the key to imitating a dancer's groove. But just because you recognize it doesn't make learning it easy.


The back always does something, even if that's how a dancer naturally holds themselves. Pay attention to it and see how it changes the look of a move.




There you have it! 6 tips to help you learn, train, and perform better in Afrodance! Which tips were you already using that you didn't realize? Which ones were new to you?


 

Kemi OG is an Afrofusion dance artist, choreographer, creative director, and Afrodance nerd. As an artist, Kemi is known for creating abstract, culturally infused pieces that experiment with Afrodance and incorporate other artistic mediums to reflect people's interactions, emotions, and perspectives. She is passionate about sharing African culture and history through dance, and exploring social issues while encouraging mental wellness and self-worth through movement.





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