1. Exploring culture through dance

Helping your pupils appreciate the value of studying traditional African dance is an important part of teaching the arts. Learning about the arts is often rooted in stories from the past.

Also, ‘the arts’ enable people to express meaning in their everyday lives and help them to develop their sense of identity and self-worth.

Case Study 1 and Activity 1 will help you consider with your pupils how traditions change and disappear, and debate whether this is a good or bad thing.

Case Study 1: Investigating the Venda people and the domba

Ms Sylvia Msane teaches at a primary school in Sebokeng, a township south of the Johannesburg city centre in South Africa.

Sylvia is married to a man of Zulu origins and they speak English and Isizulu at home. However, her mother’s ancestors are from Venda. Sylvia is concerned that her pupils, like many other young people in South Africa, know very little about their cultural origins. Sylvia thinks of a saying that has been passed down to her: ‘Umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu’ – ‘A person is a person because of other people’.

She decides to tell her pupils a story that her grandmother told her when she was a child about the Venda people (see Resource 1: Stories of the Venda drum). After telling them how the Venda people came to live in the northern parts of South Africa, she shows them some traditional Venda clothes and pictures of young women dancing the domba. One pupil asks what the women are doing. Sylvia explains that these women have almost completed their initiation and are dancing in the form of a python. She tells them another story to explain the significance of this snake and they discover how the domba dance celebrates the fertility of young women (see Resource 1). Another pupil asks her if she was initiated in this way and she explains that she wasn’t. People’s lives and priorities have changed and many traditions from the past have died out. They debate whether it is a good or bad thing that this has happened.

Activity 1: Finding out about an African dance tradition of the past

Find out from your class, colleagues or members of the community if there are any traditional dancers in the area.

Ask the head teacher if you can invite the person in.

Contact the person and ask them to come and talk to your class about local dances and to demonstrate one or two dances. Ask them to bring the clothes they wear.

Prepare your class for the visit (see Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ). Think about questions the pupils may want to ask.

On the day, prepare the classroom so there is a space for the visitor to sit and dance and so all the pupils can see.

Welcome and introduce the visitor. The visitor talks and dances for perhaps half an hour.

Encourage your pupils to ask the visitor questions.

After the visit, discuss with your pupils what they have learned about dance. Who liked it? Who would like to do more? Think what you can do next. Maybe the visitor could return to teach them some dances?

Section 3: Using dance for learning

2. Working in groups to devise a dance