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Learning Senegalese Sabar

Cricket Senegalese Dance

By Cricket L., YES Abroad 2016-2017, Senegal

When I first found out I would be spending my junior year in Senegal, I immediately thought of dance. I assumed that I would spend my year learning traditional Senegalese dance and all would be well…

But, things often don’t work out as we plan them to, and I discovered in my first month on exchange that my goal would be much harder to achieve than I thought. I discovered that part of learning a new style of dance (as with any craft) is observation. Without this, it’s almost impossible to learn it. When you learn the dance of your own culture, it might be difficult, but at least you know the feeling of it. But as soon as you attempt to learn a dance style of a different culture, the learning process becomes increasingly difficult.

This has been the case for me this year. It took about 6 months of observation and listening for the Senegalese styles to start coming more naturally to me (I am by no means a natural, but the movement is becoming easier and less awkward). Between my friends at school, and the dance classes I’ve taken, I have learned about the culture of dancing. And a large part of this has been music. Upon arrival, I can say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the music, but over the past 6 months, it has grown on me, and is now among my favourite kinds of music! I have learned that these things take time, and they are impossible to rush.

About 3 months into my exchange, I realised that my goal of becoming good at traditional Senegalese dance might be far-fetched. Sabar is a traditional Senegalese form of dance which is accompanied by Sabar music (played on the Sabar drum using one hand and one stick). When someone is playing the Sabar drum, you can easily hear it from far away, as it is a loud and often fast rhythm. The dance is similar in many ways to the music and involves many large movements: stomps, jumps, flailing (but also controlled) arms. Even when it comes to more modern dance and music, everything is different (as I expected) from what I have grown up with in Vermont.

Fast forward 3 more months to my 6th month on exchange…

After a private class with Shruthi and Maty (our program director at American Councils), I have realized that I love Sabar! Turns out what I needed was 6 months and a basic class with a good teacher for me to discover how enjoyable Sabar can be! So long story short, I can’t wait to spend the 3 months I have left in Senegal enjoying the beautiful music and dance and culture. I have come to understand that some things take time, but in the long run, that time is worth it.