Sunday, April 19, 2009


Malagasy dance clubs amuse me. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I get irritated at the drunk man (or woman—equally obnoxious) who keeps grabbing me. But there is so much to be amused about. There are so many ways to study dance and all it says about people.

The main dance in my region is called kilalaky. I don’t remember if I’ve described this to you or not, but in case I haven’t, I’ll give you a quick summary.

They say that kilalaky was created because of the cow thieves. There used to be tons on this part of the island, and they say that the dance imitates the way the cow thieves had to walk in order to cover up their tracks. I’m not sure if this would work or not (drag marks or footprints—don’t they both equal cow thieves?), but I like the idea of it.

So the basics. Think follow the leader, but to a beat. Seriously. One person goes first, and they choose the basic moves, and everyone follows them. And you do this in a circle. Or if there are two different leaders, their two lines kind of twist around each other. You always want to get in near the beginning of the line, because by the time you round to the end of the line, people can’t really see the leader and don’t really care if they’re doing it right and just kind of shuffle in the circle. Because that’s basically what you do. Shuffle. Yes, you move your hands in different ways (though there’s one main way) and yes you can do the legs differently and all that—but essentially it’s this shuffle around in a circle. You know this—that the rest is just icing—because it deteriorates to that once everyone is drunk or tired or both.

Oh and sometimes women will randomly shake their booties. They tie clothes around to emphasize this. And little girls learn this before they can walk, no joke.

I enjoy this dance. The people are creative, even if you are usually following other people. It’s nice, because you work and think creatively blah blah blah when you’re the leader. But otherwise, you just pay attention and focus on having fun. You don’t need to think about whether or not your move right there is cool—you just copy the others and keep smiling. It’s also nice because EVERY kilalaky song is essentially the SAME and very very long. Which means you don’t have to suddenly adjust to awkward beats. You know what I mean.

But what I love best about the kilalaky is watching it. I’m telling you, it’s a character study. You can figure things out about people based on how they dance kilalaky. I’ll give you an example.

We were at this club once. I mean, it was pretty awful—hardly any women there, except for what I think were prostitutes, who then left because they were getting in fights (weird). It was mostly this boys being ridiculous and thinking they’re cool. You know. Typical. At one point, these two guys thought they were so cool. Each put their foot on the other’s shoulder (picture it) and they kind of hopped in a circle, with all their friends rooting, as if they just invented the moon walk. It was incredible.

So then kilalaky started. For the longest time, this one guy played leader. He was muscular, and wore an itty bitty shirt to emphasize this fact. He danced well, but his moves were rather jerky and it was clear that he KNEW he danced well—and probably practiced a lot and generally thought too much about it—and was constantly paying attention to whether or not others were watching. Whatever. This guy started amusing me, however, once he let this girl take over leader. Now, since so many of the moves are centered around your core, as you follow the person in front of you, you are often staring at their butt. I mean, how else will you notice if they change the footwork or the hands, right? Well, this tight t-shirter was clearly thrilled that he got to—was SUPPOSED to—stare at this girls butt for a good 8 minutes (long songs, remember?). He had the BIGGEST grin on his face and never lost eye contact with those back pockets.

The girl, on the other hand, thought she was really being respected as a leader, and would sometimes turn to check and see if he was following her lead. Worry of mutiny, I guess. You don’t want to turn to realize you’re flying solo.

In a kilalaky line you will always find those two things. One person who thinks he is an all-star (justified or not—it’s the fact that he thinks he should be on MTV that counts). One person has to check and make sure others aren’t getting rebellious.

You will also always find (and this one is my favorite) one guy who quite frankly doesn’t CARE who the leader is. He’s in line, yes, sure sure. But he is jiving and going crazy and doing who knows what. Arms are flying everywhere. Legs are kicking out. His face is lit up as he jams. Dancing to his own tune. This is the fun guy. This is how everyone should dance.

And as I mentioned, near the end you will always find the shufflers. They shuffle their feet forward and move with the line, but they make no effort to elaborate. It may be because they can’t see what the leader wants them to do. It may be because they think they’re too cool to do anything crazy. It may be because they’re too busy flirting with the person before or after them. And it may be because they are simply bored, but are doing kilalaky because that’s just what you DO. The latter usually refers to the guy with both hands in his pockets. Awesome.

Of course, you’ll also have the random drunk planets. I’m referring to the people who aren’t part of lines or anything—they just stand in one place and bob a little, in their own drunken haze. Sometimes they’ll balance a beer bottle on their head (never letting go, so I don’t really count it). Sometimes they’ll throw a little ships across the ocean action into the mix, reaching out and trying to grab others as they pass by. These people will be either extremely amusing or extremely forgettable.

present time:
At the end of that last paragraph I got tired and went to bed, not really finishing any thoughts. But I will say this. I not only have my students dance videos (did I ever tell you about that? About me and my students making educational music videos, using traditional song and dance to teach the community about things like malaria, clean water, AIDS, etc?), I also have the some big hits from Madagascar. We're talking talking a devil and Jesus fighting in a dance video. We're talking midgets. It's out of control and amazing and how I'll remember the music that was in Madagascar. So if you're around and my computer hasn't died by then, I'll show you....

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