Paulina Personius - Senegal

April 2, 2012

I hear the sharp sound of the drum starting to lay down the beat of the song at the weekly dance called a “tur” that is held in my town for girls my age. Ran-tan-tan, ran-tan, ran-tan. Soon more drums join in and the beat is almost lost to my untrained ear in the cacophony of the noise they make.

The women, seated in a circle around the edges of a pink mat laid on the ground, are dressed in their best outfits. Each one is carefully tailored, crazily patterned, and brightly colored.

Suddenly a woman hops up to the middle of the mat. She pauses for a second, then starts dancing. Her legs pound on the ground to the beat of the drums, which in this moment, her moment, seems to be beating only for her. With one hand she grabs onto the edge of her wrap skirt, waving it back and forth.

As mesmerizing as her dancing is, it’s her expression that really captures my attention. Her wide smile and her ability to block out the faces around the mat – all focused on her – and just dance. As the song comes to an end she lets out a yell and runs back to her seat, an open invitation for another person to take her place in the center of the circle.

I hesitate for a second before my friend Fatou helps make the decision for me by pushing me off my lap, where I had been sitting soaking it all in. I start slowly, then increase speed with the music. My legs leap up around me and I wave my skirt in the air. Soon my friend Fatou is facing me, dancing as well. We smile at each other and soon there are 4-5 girls dancing around us. I recall something my dance teacher used to constantly yell at me, “You have to feel the music, not just listen to it.” It was something I never seemed to achieve at the ballet bar or on the wooden dance floor, but here, to the sharp beat of the drums, feet pounding on a pink mat, I danced with no inhibitions – not thinking, simply reacting to the beat.

Paulina Personius