Non-IA Reflection: Drum and Dance Classes with Balla and Ndeyekhady Sy

When I was scheduling classes for this semester, I decided to knock out one general education requirement with Music Cultures of the World.  The structure of this class is unique in that a portion of our grade is dedicated to a written ethnography reflecting on a performance that ties into what one would not consider classical “Western” music. Although I had been interested in Africa long before, this class had me absolutely captivated with African culture and music.

On October 8th, I had been invited to attend a Goree Drum and Dance session by two people: a graduate student in the School of Music, and a teaching assistant who gave me a flyer.  I was at the library when I quickly glanced at the flyer to find the time and location of what I thought would be a performance, and decided to dart straight to the Union. I arrived just as the dancers and musicians arrived, and paid the entry fee. However, I quickly noticed that I was the only one not dressed to perform. It was then that I realized there was no audience; this was a class!

Serrita Sy, the dance instructor, welcomed me in, and introduced me to the class, as I was the only new dancer. She had me kick off my shoes and join in. As soon as all of the dancers were ready, Balla Sy began to play the Djembe (African drum), accompanied by a musician and his Djun-Djun (three drums). The graduate student that had invited me earlier was shadowing Balla and repeating patterns with her Djembe.

The dancing began with about 10-20 minutes of a warm-up, and I began to write-off African dance as easy, but within the next hour, I was tripping over my own feet. As time moved on, the music sped up, and got significantly more complex. We performed in sections, as it was a competition dance in West Africa. Serrita was kind enough to take her time with me to show me basic moves, while the others in the class were dancing like leaves in the wind. It was a beautiful dance to watch, and the women I was dancing with were incredibly talented. After we completed the class, we bowed down to the drummers and placed a delicate kiss on the floor.

By the end, I was shocked at the differences between both music and dance in African context versus my own cultural context. This experience was one of the coolest things I have ever done. An interpretation error on my part lead to me making one of my best memories in college. There is nothing that I can compare to actually immersing yourself into an alternative culture. This class allowed me to understand the key differences in context of music and dance between the Classical Western Music and African Music, which enriched my academic experience tremendously.

This event supplements my work an International Affairs Scholar really well because the lesson completely engulfed me into another cultures practice, and I loved it! I have a newfound appreciation, knowledge, and respect for the West African Culture, music, and dance. The event raised my own global awareness, original inquiry, and academic enrichment significantly, which are all some key pillars of being an Honors and Scholars student.

Earlier this year, I had been contemplating volunteering abroad in Tanzania over the Summer of 2019. However, I had been hesitant to make the leap and commit. Although Tanzania is not in West Africa, this event helped me realize that it is these unique experiences that satisfy the callings of my heart.