Last Wednesday, dance students and passers-by in the PE hall stumbled across a rather unusual sight: the energetic Kim Strunk, UVU dance instructor extraodinaire, was struggling to keep up in dance with an older woman who had a cast on her foot.
That woman was Mabiba Baegne, on her annual tour around the country, stopping in to grace us with her talents and to teach the willing – and the very nimble – the simple- looking yet deceptively complicated traditional African dances.
Never have I experienced such difficulty in maintaining a straight line as I have with African dance. I tried it last year, and ended up dancing by myself, with Mabiba yelling at me, “Where is your line? Get back in your line!”
The steps look easy but are complicated because you need to be synced with everyone in the line, and you have to be quick on your feet, hands, and, in sum, your whole body. As a belly dancer, I’m used to dances that look complicated but are actually pretty easy. African dance is a whole new ballgame, filled with the beauty of ancient art and the love of life. And no one in the room ever has more enthusiasm than Mabiba.
She is from the Republic of Congo, an area of the world she describes as being “shaky right now.” Her pride in her heritage is evident in the way she teaches, and in her expertise.
She answered her student’s questions on all the different styles of regional African dances, and even gave them advice for if they want to visit Congo to learn more about the dances. “Let people know where you are, so they can find you” if anything goes wrong, she emphasized. She told them it would completely change their perspective on dance. “How they dance in their community and how they dance for audiences is very different,” she said.
One student asked what rhythm they were using, and Mabiba answered that it was Nkkumba – otherwise known as Rumba, as revised by Cuban dance.
Her love for dance is not limited to African styles. On ballet, she commented, “It’s amazing to me how they can go from flat foot to tip-toe,” she said. “I’d be flat on my face, and that’s it.”
After thirty years of dancing on stage, she says she is done with it and content to teach. But she did love the stage. “When on stage, you are not you anymore. You are dance,” she said, with a little light in her eye. She still has no desire to return to performing. “You go on stage,” she tells the students. “Me, I watch.”
Kim Strunk informs her students of Study Abroad programs available, which they can use to travel and learn about dance. She also advises them to go to the camps where the people from these nations live and to talk to the teachers.
For more information on African and other dance programs, contact Kim Strunk at [email protected]