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African dancer teaches new moves

Senegalese dancer and artist Germaine Acogny shakes up Phnom Penh.

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One of Germaine Acogny's African dance classes.

Germaine Acogny, described by some as the "mother of African dance", is this week taking a residency at Phnom Penh's Reyum Institute as part of the networking activities of the Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Fund.

The renowned Senegalese performer is in Phnom Penh to share her technique of modern African dance with local dancers in daily workshops and will also host a public lecture, a drumming workshop and finally a public performance featuring workshop participants.  

Around 30 Cambodians, selected from various local art associations, are expected to take part in the program.

"We have tried to provide the opportunity to a variety of local institutions and involve people from different horizons," said Ly Daravuth, who organised the event at the Reyum Institute. "About half of the participants are classical dancers," he continued, adding that other dancers taking part have varied backgrounds in hip- hop, theatre and even the circus.

"It's a short visit, so it is difficult to develop anything [in depth], but maybe in the future we can do something more," Ly Daravuth said.

 
Starting a dialogue

It is only the beginning of a dialogue, Germaine Acogny agreed. "While teaching, I will encourage participants to use their own background, too, and well, we'll see what happens," she said.

"Sometimes, classical dancers seem almost handicapped; they are not used to moving their body so much. But after a while they usually come around, as they already possess the fundamental techniques [of dancing]," she added.

The residency is not only about teaching. It is also an opportunity for Germaine Acogny to explore something new. 

"When I go somewhere, I try to learn the traditional dance and transform it into my own technique," she said. "I am curious about classical Khmer dance. Like in classical European dance, the bust does not move and it seems rigid, but I don't know at the moment, I have to try it first."

From Africa to the world

Germaine Acogny, who runs the Senegal-based International Centre of Traditional and Contemporary Dances, describes African dance as emanating a special energy through its rootedness in the ground and its connection with nature.

In fact, she believes all forms of dance share the same African heritage; only, they have been transformed over the centuries in different parts of the world.

if I was a president of a country, I woud make everyone dance.

Regardless of technique, however, she considers dancing in general to have a positive effect on society. 

"I think dance is communication, education - it awakens something in people and relieves frustrations .... It's my dream that everyone would dance. Dancing has a sociological, psychological and educational effect on people and society. If I was a president of a country, I would make everyone dance. That's how the country would develop," she said.

A royal dance

While in Cambodia, Germaine Acogny also has a small request: She would like to meet King Norodom Sihamoni.

"I've read he is a former ballet dancer, and so I would like to dance for him, or perhaps we could dance together," she said.    

Germaine Acogny's lecture on African dance will be held at 6pm on Wednesday at the Reyum Institute. The final performance involving all workshop participants will take place at 7pm on Friday at Gasolina. 

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