Dance in Vodou

Frater Vameri



Photo: Unknow author.


This week, due to coincidences in my life, I ended up being confronted (again) with the importance of dancing in Haitian Vodou. As I observed at the time of this confrontation, movement and the body are vital vehicles for Vodou, Candomblé and so many other spiritualities of African descent. This is an always interesting point to discuss, since Western religiosity does not tend to value the presence of the body so much.


Speaking of the term “presence”, I remember Hans Gumbrecht who in his work “Production of Presence” in which he looks for “non-hermeneutical and non -metaphysical ” ways - metaphysics here being to attribute a value beyond what is substantive - to present concepts. In this journey (which I summarize poorly here) he argues that Western culture - predominantly Platonic - is always operating in favor of the meaning of things as that other type of culture, which would be a "presence culture", it would be linked to a "spatial relationship with the world ”, with “tangibility ”. In this sense, the body is an important device and the dance soon comes to mind and with this corporeality it also seems that the African-based spiritualities are attuned.


Also, I remember that Saint- Méry in his initial descriptions of Vadoux already spoke to us about dance and music. If we attend a Vodou ceremony, the music and dance will be there, in fact. Furthermore, possession, perhaps the most popular characteristic of spirituality, is, for all intents and purposes, the taking of the body by a concept that until then was only abstract, at least, metaphysical, in the sense of being something beyond what is palpable.


Possession is, in itself, a great dance, in which two partners share the spontaneous movement of religiosity. However, what else is dance? Dance is an expression of the body that follows a rhythm or choreography. To argue that the whole Vodou ritual is a great dance would not be absurd, since there are stages that are necessarily organized by the movement and the body. In a Vodou ceremony, sitting and appealing to the spirits with the mind alone is unusual, as the spirits eat and like music.


It is clear that music is an appropriate and frequent partner of dance and, therefore, it also sediments the materiality of the ceremony. It is curious to note that the "praises" to the Lwas are mostly not prayers, but songs. The difference is small, but notable. Basically they are spoken words, but the cadence and rhythm impose an orderly movement of the body - even if it is the muscles of the face and tongue - and perhaps singing is really, after all, dancing in some way. However, if we think that this argument is a bit exaggerated, I challenge anyone to sing without making a small movement whatsoever - like shaking the body, the hands or the head. Nowhere is it said that the dance needs to be obvious or always with wide and open movements.


Anyway, maybe this was one of the most open texts on this website, but before it is a presentation of concepts, it is an invitation to think about how much our relationship of body and spirit can bring concepts. It has long been argued that religious experience cannot be kept in words, we look for something beyond them when mystics, doctors and the like of churches and religions are read, but sometimes we forget to look for experience in materiality, in our objective relationship with things and in truly solid acts - like dancing.

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