I am aware that many choreographers create techniques to serve their own choreographic needs.  I created the Talawa Technique™ ™ to serve a wider community.  Systemised Techniques have a political purpose.  A technique that is structured and accessible can contribute to filter research.  We know that, when institutionalised, Techniques provide education, help in allocating space, releases funding, ensures quality and is used to say what is and is not quality and or art.  Those who can point to, for example, Horton or Graham technique training, are instantly deemed artists, professionals and qualify for funding and work.  They will be sought after to teach.  There are studios, rehearsal space and stages allocated to serve their needs specifically. In this way, we can say that established techniques become validating institutions.

There are now some studies which claim to include African Diaspora dance or to have these as equal parts of the education.  Most times when going through the curriculum Africana dance is not approached from a technical perspective, but rather 1-5 dances of Africa or the African diaspora are chosen and students get to learn them.  The result is that they might be able to execute some dances but seldom gain deep enough knowledge and access to be able to deconstruct, repurpose or create new vocabulary using the principles found in the aesthetics and aesthesis of each dance and culture.

Creating, systemising and validating our techniques is a decolonial action as it centers other sensibilities and ways of knowing through dance.  Mobility and unpoliced movement on and from Black bodies decolonises space, stage, society and even movement itself.  Ancestral dance has rules and technique, examination and roads to validation.  It is strict and often based on mastery.  The institutionalisation of our dances is not necessarily a colonial action because indigenous knowledge systems also have schools and rules.

We who work within Africana and Caribbean dance forms need to structure and institutionalise our techniques so that they may function within global, institutional, and contemporary settings.  This is the key to more than just training; it is a receptacle for, and what releases privilege.  I use the term privilege here because this can close the gap between practitioners who have trained twenty years within African dance forms, and a student of Europeanist technique who can point to a three-year bachelor’s degree and receive more significant accolades, funding and security than the Africana practitioner.

Systemising our techniques allow us the same level of protection, while never compromising our centrality.  It is also for this purpose that I am sharing the technique freely rather than reserving it for the company alone.  In Norway, we have succeeded in establishing the Talawa Technique™ ™ as an emerging validating institution that professionalises Africana talent and qualifies them for funding from the arts council, for space on the stages and in the training institutions.  Since 2020 we have also started certifying international instructors. A structured and codified technique also allows for the training of beginners and or advanced dancers with varying degree of references because it provides points of comparison, multiple modes of learning, teaching and provides a clear standard from which to draw inspiration.

Codified techniques and systems of analysis beg specificity, something that is often sorely lacking when our dance styles are referenced in contemporary diasporic contexts.  I here refer to modern practitioners who would say something like “I mix contemporary with my Caribbean flavour”.  I find such statements somewhat problematic, at least when they cannot be elaborated upon.  This sets up a binary between what I would assume is an unspecified Europeanist contemporary technique with whatever “Caribbean flavour” can be deemed to be.  It also separates Caribbean flavour from contemporaneity.

Indigenous knowledge systems and contextualisation, however, have a higher degree of specificity when it comes to referencing and categorising retentions and contexts.  We must use this to study the logic of our movement practices, from their centrality and interrogate what this can offer us within contemporary settings.  The hegemony of Europeanist logics also in relation to Africana dance and the “Black dancing body” leads to a continued epistemicide.  Episteme is the production of knowledge. Epistemicide is the killing of other systems of knowledge production.  European colonial activities have sought to kill indigenous knowledge systems.  This includes indigenous and ancestral dance as a system of knowledge.

Technique as mode of exclusion

The success of modern dance techniques and especially jazz dance techniques could be viewed from different perspectives.  If they were designed to exclude Black people from dances that they even originated and change ownership over to Euro-Western representation, ensuring the domination of that perspective, we must say that they have been successful enterprises.  If we also acknowledge how they are inspired by African American, Caribbean, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian dances we must also interrogate if they, and maybe especially dance was able to put into a conditioning and training system, the ability to train and execute the qualities and aesthetics, rhythm and polysentric movement of for example Caribbean, Latinx and African American dance, the conclusion would be that they are insufficient and lacking in that regard.  It is in this aspect especially that these techniques become even more violent as they claim and expropriate spaces and make claims where they do not deliver.

My naming and wording of concepts such as violent and non-violent jazz, Africana dance, cosmocentric dance, ancestral dance and more, is among other things, to bridge the gap between our embodied knowledge and that which could also be made to be more explicit knowledge.  In this way more people can access it, and the hegemony of the Euro-Western poor ability to conceptualise and theorise practices to which they do not have embodied nor implicit knowledge or experience with is mediated.

The result is for example that many things become misnomer.  Continuing with the example of Jazz, the claim is often that jazz comes from African American culture.  However, much of the Jazz we see, for example in musicals and Broadway are in fact Westernised and balletic dance technique mixed with elements of minstrelsy and not African American deep culture.

Minstrelsy was the most popular form of entertainment in Northern America and is a practice based on ridiculing and debasing African American life at the plantation.  Basically, the violent act of making fun of oppressed people and forcing them to make fun of themselves.  The exaggerated smiles, “jazz hands” displaying the contrast between the white and the black side of the hands etc. are all based on this harmful practice and not an African American cultural element.  Mixing minstrelsy with balletic elements leaves very little retention which is a representation of Black dance, life, virtuosity aesthetics and culture.

We must be careful when we add jazz to a curriculum thinking that we are being inclusive of Black people when we do so.  Misrepresenting a culture can be as harmful as excluding it.  I have in my theory classes started to separate what I call violent jazz from what I refer to as non-violent Jazz. Of course, at times I must use the term less violent jazz because any dance practice which is born out of oppression will also have histories and elements inn it that will point towards the subjugation, trauma, oppression and or marginalisation which provided context and situation for its practice.

Violent Jazz- Jazz practices that are based on minstrelsy and other oppressive representations of Black dance, the Black body and the segregation/oppression/exclusion of Black personhood.

Non-Violent Jazz- Jazz practices which were upheld by Black people in Black spaces where the goal of the practice was Black joy, Black Catharsis, and Black social life and community.  There are also more non-violent representations of Jazz which have and can be executed by white people and others.  The reference to Black life and culture deals with the origins.

Africana embodied jazz- non-violent jazz practices as they are when they continue to have agency and autonomy on Black bodies and personhoods and is used as an active agent for the continuation of Black artistic existence.

Many believe the search for decoloniality is the same as the pursuit of joy, of playfulness, of the return to something completely non-triggering, a utopia where everything has a flat structure.  I do not believe this to be the case.  This is a form of neo-hippieism which does as much to hinder decoloniality as it does to work towards it.  To simply stop doing injustice or racism is not decolonial.  This is simple inclusion and antiracism.  decoloniality also has to address the issue and redistribute power of definition.

Movement, specifically dance making is a mobilisation of the mind as well as bodies.  It is body politics in motion, it is citizenship and subversive power.  It is an embodies practice.  This is particularly relevant as colonialisation has displaced bodies, put upon them forced constraints.  To dance, with your own voice, in your own power, with your own story, to your own music is hence a radical act against coloniality and towards something else.  We talk a lot in the Diaspora about rhythm, music, song, poetry and dance, because in these expressions, we have claimed space, and try as one might, the realm of rhythm and dance has never truly been colonised, as it has never truly been “captured”.

Avoiding capture has been an Africana practice since the beginning of colonialism and enslavement, in more ways than the obvious.  I offer a concept developed by Tia-Monique Uzor that she calls ‘Avoiding Capture’.  Her concept relates to African and African diasporic artists, to describe artists who:

[…] despite the hostility of the environment that they exist and create within, carve out their own spaces, use their language and dance on their terms, with or without support from institutions.  The artist who avoids capture, will not be a token or compromised, but instead asserts themselves through developing practices and producing creative expressions.  Expressions which are unashamedly reflective of their experiences (Uzor, 2018a)[1].

We decolonise dance in many ways.  One of them is to renegotiate political power by naming colonial subjugation and offering a decolonial alternative by reconfiguring aesthetics and aesthesis.

“Just because the lizard nods his head, doesn’t mean he’s in agreement.”- Africana proverb

Like Tony Morrison’s books were written with an intention to “neither be consumed nor concerned by the white gaze”, I too write this decolonial discussion document seeking to neither be consumed nor concerned by the Euro-Western perspective on Africana dance and Black body politics as it pertains to dance making.  This brings forth the question that is in the back of many of our minds concerning decoloniality, and why so many, I believe, resist it.  The central question that is inevitable to ask, in the end is: in the decolonised world, is the coloniser relevant?

[1] Uzor, T.-M. (2018a) A Liberation of the Soul: I: Object Tabanka Dance Ensemble. [Online] Tia-Monique Uzor. Available from: https://tiamoniqueuzor.wordpress.com/blog/ [Accessed 10/03/19].