Sankofa Dance

"looking back...moving forward"

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Looking back

We will be taking a look at dance from a cultural perspective. We are connecting the dances of the past with the dances of the present. Please share these emails with your children; These will be part of our discussions in dance class and rehearsals.

West African Dance- Mandiani (pronounced Man-jani)

Lesson Overview

The influence of West-African dance can be recognized in its past and present traditions. West-African dance makes known a common past and stimulates a shared sense of values and beliefs. The cultural purpose of West-African dance is to tell history and relay stories to intensify social and religious rituals. It is performed to celebrate important community events such as initiations or coming of age ceremonies, marriages, funerals, births, deaths and harvest season. West-African dance engenders a sense of belonging and a holistic means of developing identity. In this lesson, Ms. Felecia plays the role of Griot, community historian, while the students learn and share new dances and clothe themselves in something new, different and colorful. They think about those that have come before them and record their feelings and ideas while pondering the gifts that they bring to the community and their legacy.


The Mali Empire was established in the 13th century. Mande-speaking peoples began to expand their boundaries through conquest and trade. The Mandikas were the first in a series of invaders to reach the Senegambia region. Gradually, the whole of the Gambia valley came under Mandinka control and they were firmly established by the 15th century. Mandinka and Mandingo make up the largest share of the Gambian (country) population.

People of the Gambia (country) are broadly classified into Mandinka, Fula, and Wolof. Although it is not possible to tell the historic tribes apart by appearance, each group has its own traditions, language and background. Though each region still performs the Mandiani dance today, it may be known by other names:

People and Country

Mandingo, Mandinkas, Gambia (Senegambia)

Fulani, Senegal

Fon, Liberia

Hausa, Nigeria

Ewe, Nigeria

Ashanti, Ghana

Ibo, Nigeria

Traditionally, infants are strapped to their mothers’ backs and learn daily rituals by experiencing the rhythms and patterns produced by the movement. Through oral tradition, young children learn traditional West-African games and dances through their mothers’ lifestyles. For example,, a fisherman’s dance is performed near Cape Coast, where entire communities participate in the rhythmic dance of pulling in fishnets, accompanied by music and song. Children learn that the title given to a dance may be taken from an event, a place, a drum or, in some instances, a food. Likewise, the dance’s movements are generally connected to that entity, occasion or event. As children grow, they participate in community dance festivals or join cultural groups that blend contemporary and traditional dance styles and forms. Most Africans throughout the Diaspora learn traditional music and dance in much the same way.

Mandiani is shared as a communal recreational dance sometimes as afternoon fun. It also is an initiation celebration dance of the Mandingo people of the Mande culture from Senegal, West Africa. This dance shows metaphorically the transformation from childhood to young adulthood and features dance movements copied from bird and animal movements admired by West Africans.

When Mandiani is danced as a communal recreational dance, people of all ages participate although physical performance varies. Youths dance more vigorously than elders whose movements are more conservative. This is noticed when the drummers speed up the tempo. The overall technique required of this dance is as much a mental process as it is a physical one.


Students were asked the following questions: We asked these questions to see what, the students already knew.

  1. What do you know about West-African dance?

  2. What does West-African dance mean to you?

  3. Does African dance influence dance in the United

    States today? If so, how? Why not?

  4. What is traditional or cultural dance? Traditional

    dance is a dance that originated with the common people of a country or region. Traditional dances are usually performed during traditional celebrations or social gatherings.

  5. Do you know of any communities where people dance traditional dances? If so, who? Where?

  6. Have you ever danced any traditional or cultural dances? If so, which ones?

  7. Do you or any of your family members ever dance any dances that represent your cultural heritage? Describe your experiences.


Background Points:

  • West Africa is a region on the continent of Africa. It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Sahara Desert on the north, the Gulf of Guinea on the south, and the countries of Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon on the east. See Attachment A, Map of Africa.

  • The Western Sudan, which includes the majority of Senegambia, extends from the southern reaches of the Sahara Desert south of the Niger River, to Lake Chad in the east.

West-African Dance -

  • The Mandinka-Mandingo people are originally from Mali, an oral tradition society, where learning is acquired through songs sung in unity, sung to get through a task or sung to pass the time of day, and proverbs that are given to teach or learn lessons.

  • Although the majority of the Mandingo people are Muslims who follow the teachings of Mohammed, the holy prophet of Islam, and the Quran, the holy book of Islam, few understand the Arabic language.

Home Work

Give two cultural facts about:




Research the "Cakewalk" and be ready to discuss it.

Safe search engine for kids:

Home work is due March 5th.

Further study may include looking up West African dance on youtube with the permission of parent. Please note a lot of cultural African dances are done in their traditional fashion. Women and girls may practice ritual nudity This is not the norm of our society but it is certainly a reflection of the traditions and cultures abroad. Parental guidance explanations may be necessary when searching videos online.

African Dance Choreography Workshop

Saturday, March 5th, 3-7pm

382 Glynn Street North

Fayetteville, GA

The dances learned in this class will be apart of the June Production. It will be a great way to be introduced to this style of African Dance.

Students should come dressed to dance. (Please wear Jazz pants or shorts)

Age appropriate: 7 and up

For RVDS Students only

Performance in these African dances require a lot of energy and knowledge of steps. There will be an audition to perform these dances at the end of the workshop.

All students are are required to have $20 (Jr.) $30 (sr.) for their costumes for the African dances. This is not apart of the costume fees. Some students have already paid, if you have not paid for your African costume, please do so on March 5th.