Traditional dance is embroidered on the Rwandan cultural fabric. Dance is a key ingredient of ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings and storytelling. From weddings and thanksgivings to state functions and church services, there is always room for dancers.
Traditional genres vary from area to area but Intore dance is popular throughout the country. Male Intore dancers usually don wigs while holding spears and shields. Umushanana, a popular traditional attire is common among female dancers. Skirts, fitted tops and a variety of accessories, including ankle-bands and head wraps are also widely used. Women perform the ballet while men play the drum and put on a show imitating old heroes. The highly choreographed dance involves singing, clapping and a wide range of spectacular moves. Their coordinated steps and gravity-defying vertical leaps will take your breath away.
Igishakamba celebrates the famed long-honed cows known as inyambo. Umushagiriro on the other hand, is a display of elegance. Normally, dance troupes comprises drummers, dancers and singers. Whenever they perform, emotions flow. When relics of their favorite songs kick in, they exhibit feelings from the heart. Their bodies and souls speak through music.
Across Africa, drums are iconic music instruments but their symbolic value transcends entertainment. In many African societies, drums are played in good and bad times. Their paradigmatic sounds are heard in times of peace and war. They are used to communicate, celebrate, mourn and inspire. Drumming is also done in the rites of passage, ancestral worship and warrior rituals.
Contemporary African music is a fusion of different modern genres but traditional dance continues to create jobs, promote talent and preserve culture. During the 10th edition of the Pan-African Dance Festival (FESPAD), I was amazed by diversity showcased by traditional dancers from different parts of the continent. Throughout this multicultural six-day event, the drum was predominantly used. Apart from dance, the festival featured other forms of cultural exhibitions.
In tourism, traditional dance adds flavor to cultural experiences. It is rare to see an itinerary that doesn’t include entertainment staged by cultural troupes. In Rwanda, dancers encourage tourists to join them on stage and emulate their swaying. Dancing with members of the local community helps visitors to capture their hosts’ spirit and feel their vibe. Most African dances are largely participatory. There are no barriers between players and spectators. As a matter of fact, African dance enthusiasts can’t resist the urge to join the show.
Large gatherings and events are currently suspended in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Speaking to Exposure, Cyomugisha Odile, a Kayonza-based professional dancer, expressed optimism. "The virus will be mitigated and when that happens, I will spread my hands and dance again. I can’t wait."