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African drum and dances connect hearts

Updated: 2016-08-30 15:01
By Chen Yingqun (chinadaily.com.cn)

When it comes to different countries, races and languages and cultures, communication between people usually becomes difficult. But Chinese dancer Jiang and her husband, Cameroon dancer Simon Abbe say their communication is very easy because they have a unique language: dance.

In 2005, Jiang, 23, graduated from Beijing Dance Academy and she was offered the chance to help Cameroon build up its National Dance Group and train dancers for it, a project of China's Ministry of Culture. It was in an interview with students that she met Abbe for the first time.

African drum and dances connect hearts

Jiang and Abbe are teaching African drum to children in Beijing. Photo by Chen Yingqun 

She recalled: "He was tall, wearing a blue tracksuit and a red hat. We prepared a piece of classical violin music and he danced to it in a hip-hop way. I knew immediately that he was a dance genius."

But Simon Abbe, who had been learning hip-hop for about six years and who with his team Black Star had won a big dance championship in Cameroon four years in a row, wondered what the woman could teach him given that she did not know hip hop.

Jiang says that although Cameroon is poor economically, she finds its open culture attractive, and it has broadened her horizons. So a planned stay of one year ended up being one of four years.

She says: "Cameroon's culture is very open. People are very enthusiastic. They are very easygoing and can sing and dance as long as there is music. They're very free; it's their personality. That experience has been very important for me creatively."

Abbe says that his dance and music is not a representation of any country but a mixture of Chinese taichi, African dance, hip-hop and many elements of contemporary dance. But they both focus on humanity and history.

African drum and dances connect hearts

Jiang and Abbe are teaching African dances to children in Beijing. Photo by Chen Yingqun 

The two dancers fell in love with each other during the teaching and study, but their relationship suffered a setback in 2009 and they were separated for the following three years. In 2009 Jiang returned to China and Abbe went to France, where he established the dance group Abbe Dance, and together with the French guitarist Stephane Thiebaut they formed the band AVE.

Although Abbe started his career in France, he never let go his beloved girlfriend in China. In 2010 he used his takings from the first concert tour and bought an air ticket to Beijing. After years of struggling with time, space and opposition from families, hey finally married in 2012 and started the routine of performances in three countries, China, France and Cameroon.

"At that time, China-Africa marriages were still rare," Jiang says. "I had my life in China and he had a career in France, so we met great opposition from our families. For me it is a miracle because when I was about 20 I thought I would have chosen a very easy life, then I accidentally went to Africa and my life could never be disconnected with him. Many people around me have given up their loves because of different living places or countries or some realistic problems, but I feel it is worth being persistent in gaining love. If you can find the right person and the job that you love, then that person is already very lucky, although you might not be very rich financially."

This couple now performs dances and music in France, China and Cameroon, and early this year they built an art platform, BodyBoulevard. In a recent workshop in Beijing they taught Chinese children African drum and dance.

The singer and dancer Abbe says: "We hope African drum and dance can help Chinese to know a little more about Africa. We hope to encourage them to dance spontaneously, to stimulate their potential, to give them space to freely enjoy the fun of dance."

He says: "Africans are very connected with nature, as is the case with dance and drums. Those things are really connected with the sound of humans, like the drum. The rhythm of drums is really connected to the heart. For movement we have a lot of physical activities, and we see many plants and animals in our work environment, so all African dances are kinds of representations of all sorts of animals and daily routines such as going to the farm or getting cocoa from a tree.

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