Friday, February 17, 2012

Shared Aesthetics: Ivory Coast Mask Dances & Chicago Footwork

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revision: August 29, 2018

Zaouli de Manfla

Uploaded by KONAN947 on Feb 26, 2010
Zaouli of Manfla, center-west of Ivory Coast, filmed by Konan Kouakou David

This post focuses on the similarities between the fast footwork of the Djoanigbe & Zaouli masking tradition dances and the African American dance called "Chicago footwork".

The information and videos in this post are presented for their historical, folkloric, and aesthetic values.

I want to clearly state that I'm not suggesting that Ivory Coast traditional dance is the only African dance tradition which features fast footwork. Furthermore, I'm not suggesting that Chicago footwork is the only style of fast footwork dancing among African Americans or among other people in the African Diaspora.

By showcasing these two dance forms I'm pointing out the similarities in those performances and I'm suggesting that these two dance forms obviously share a common aesthetic appreciation for dances with fast footwork. However, the meanings and purposes of this Ivory Coast dance and Chicago footwork (or Detroit footwork etc.) are the same. One significant differences between these two dances is that the Chicago footwork dance is a non-religious dance, and the Ivory Coast mask dances may include religious elements. Furthermore, the Chicago footwork dance is highly competitive, but I'm not certain whether these Ivory Coast dances are at all competitive.

With that said, the similarities between how the Djoanigbe & Zaouli masking tradition dances and the African American "Chicago footwork" dance are performed - including the fast footwork and one individual at a time dancing within a circle made up of onlookers & dancers- causes me to wonder if a valid case could be made that African Americans' aesthetic preference for certain forms of dance are genetically influenced by our unconscious rememberances of similar traditional African dances.

My thanks to those featured in the videos, to those who uploaded these videos, and to Juliana Azoubel, the author of a journal paper about these traditions from which I have quoted. It's my hope by sharing these excerpts, I will raise awareness about that paper, and will encourage others to read the entire paper.

Journal of Undergraduate Research University Of Florida
Volume 1, Issue 6 - March 2000
Juliana Azoubel
"The Cote d'Ivoire Mask Tradition from the Viewpoint of Dance Ethnology: Dancing the Gap between Spirit and Human Worlds

The Cote d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) is the origin of several of the most important and interesting masking traditions in Africa. In the West, these masks have been viewed primarily as art objects. Through their embodiment in dance, however, masks are the way many Ivorians communicate with supernatural forces and bring power to the community...

...Djoanigbe is a very important mask among the people from the Cote d'Ivoire and, fortunately, it is one that I had the opportunity to see perform...

The movements of Djoanigbe show speed and power. They are grounded low to the earth and there is a sense of mystery in the performance juxtaposed by moments of surprise that shock and startle. Since most of the steps are designed to imitate the running of a panther-the sacred or totem animal-the performance requires a great deal of space. In his November 18, 1999 performance on the stage of the Center for Performing Arts, the Djoanigbe mask completely covered the space, pacing with quick stops and direction changes.... The movement fully embodies the awe-inspiring power of Djoanigbe, and the black mask decorated with cowrie shells creates an imposing presence...

According to the Guros, the masks that did not originate from the animal spirits are entertainment masks, and among them are Sauli (Zaouli), Flali and Wali. The essential dance activity for the Zaouli mask is rapid-fire movement of the feet. Dictated by the rhythm of the drums for both the Zaouli figure and the head movements of the forest dancers, this dance is high speed and very dynamic (Poynor). "Saouli masks are topped by multi-figured compositions, the subjects of which often have nothing to do with the dance itself. The purpose of the superstructure seems to be to introduce an element of surprise into the entertainment and to increase its attractiveness"(Poynor 173)...

Zaouli is female yet the Zaouli performer is always male. The cross-gender mask performs on many different occasions to amuse people: during holidays, for entertainment of visitors to the community, to collect food from the community members during the initiation process, and also in some funeral ceremonies. Zaouli has a young sister called Flali. This mask, also performed exclusively by men, shares many characteristics of Zaouli, including the actual mask. It is entirely the dance activity that distinguishes Flali from her sister, Zaouli. Flali shows more charm and flirting in her performance. She uses a high proportion of upper back articulation in her dance, contrasting the forceful footwork-based that characterizes Zaouli. The performance of Flali is a deep play on movement characteristics of a woman and the dance becomes exaggeratedly feminine and more delicate than a female dancer's, and of Zaouli's for that matter."

Video #1: Zaouli de Manfla
This video is presented at the top of this page.

Video #2: Zahouli fo Manfla 4

Uploaded by goninti on Jan 22, 2010

Rythmique exceptionnelle

Video #3: Zahouli of Manfla2.avi

Uploaded by goninti on Jan 22, 2010
Le jeune danseur de Manfla, très énergétique, a de l'avenir. Il lui reste à parfaire sa technique et à apprendre les nombreux pas de danse des devanciers !
Très bon !!! Courage jeune frère !

Footwork is a style of related music and street dance that originated in the American city of Chicago. The dance involves fast movement of the feet with accompanying twists and turns, and usually takes place as part of a "battle". The music style has evolved from an earlier musical style, juke, a change pioneered by R.P. Boo. The style was popularised outside Chicago by inclusion in the music video for Dude 'n Nem's 2007 single "Watch My Feet".

Video #1: Chicago Footwork

Uploaded by ghettotekz on Apr 24, 2010
no real battle, just some amazin footworkin. This was with MOB, TS, Wolf Pac, Litebulb, Deryon, Stepz, Manny, just a whole bunch of dope cats. ..

Video #2: Battlegroundz Battle 6: Tae Vs Dipset

uploaded by ghettotekz on Jan 28, 2010
Come to Battle Groundz at 87th/East End every sunday to join, or watch the hottest footworkers in Chicago.

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  1. I was happy to see my paper quoted in! Just saw it today! I like the questions you bring in by comparing the Ivory Coast mask traditions with the Chicago Footwork! Definetely something to be investigated further! Thank you for spreading my work!
    Juliana Azoubel

  2. You're welcome, Juliana.

    And thank you for your interesting and informative work.

    I apologize for my delay in responding to your comment.


  3. Enjoyed looking through this, very good stuff,

  4. Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague
    who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I'd love to know more about your colleague's research on this subject.

      You're welcome about lunch :o)

  5. I'm so happy I'm not the only one who noticed the similarities!!!! I'm doing a National History Day project at my school and came across zaouli dancing then instantly got reminded of chicago footwork.

    1. Marcia Perez.

      I'm glad to "meet" someone else who agrees that Cote d'Ivoire's Zaouli dancing is similar to Chicago footwork.

      My guess is that the Chicago footwork dancers didn't "copy" Zouli dancing and probably don't even know about that dancing.

      Maybe this style of dancing is in our (Black people's) genes.
      Yet, I don't want that statement to take away from the fact that these dancing styles take skill and practice and many Black people (including me) don't and can't do fast footwork dancing or almost any other kind of dancing very well (and some non-Black people probably can perform this kind of dancing and other styles of dancing very well.