Moving through dance between New York and Dakar : ways of learning Senegalese 'Sabar' and the politics of participation
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This thesis explores a network of participants, dance students and teachers, who travel between New York City and Dakar, Senegal, around the practice of West African dance forms. Focusing on the Senegalese dance-rhythms Sabar, I joined this movement and my fieldwork methodology included apprenticeship as a student. I explored different learning environments of Sabar in New York and Dakar: the understandings involved, how this movement is maintained and how it affects dance forms. The methodological move enabled a comparative approach to research questions of learning and performing, local aesthetics and notions of being. This thesis discusses the role of the imagination in mobilizing students and teachers to travel within this network. I explore how participants navigate through the political geography of this movement, sustain the network, and how in turn the cultural flow of Sabar is ‘punctuated’ by socio-economic relationships. Secondly, I explore the understandings involved in each learning context, how these are negotiated and contested on the dance floor and how they relate to broader socio-cultural discourses and relationships that they reinforce or subvert. I argue that while different Sabar settings cannot be understood as ‘bounded’ in as much as people and ideas circulate through them, they are also distinct in that they produce different forms of Sabar. The learning contexts provide the meeting grounds for alternative conceptions of ‘dance’ and pedagogy. I explore how these notions are negotiated in relation to the specific socio-cultural and economic environments in which they are located. Specifically I analyse some common problems New York students face in learning and performing Sabar and explore the reasons behind them: the complex connection between movement and rhythm and the achievement of a specific kinaesthetic in movement. I delineate the relationship between movement and rhythm in Sabar and the importance of the aesthetic of improvisation. I argue that the prevalence of certain paradigms of learning and ‘dance’ over others is related to the specific socio-economic relationships of the participants. Specifically, an over-emphasis on movement distracts from other important aspects in the performance of Sabar and I argue that skills need to be understood as environed processes, malleable and shifting in relation to the broader socio-economic settings that link the participants together.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2025-04-07
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 7th April 2025. Video appendices restricted permanently
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