Growing up, I used to dread weddings. Not because I didn’t like the food, I was a voracious consumer of it! But, because of the second part of the wedding pillar; dance. It would make my stomach churn!
At an engagement party, the air is light and the mood relaxed. The music is normally young and hip, encouraging a free-form of dance. It is entirely possible for the engagement party to happen at a Tshisa Nyama (barbeque) and the music to be dancehall and hip-hop songs of the day. Dancing is spontaneous and can even be risqué… encouraging the chemistry of two dancers into passionate embrace.
For the roora, there are dances that are associated with various aspects of the ceremony. For example, the aunts may recite madetembo (traditional praise chants of the totem) while making traditional dances in the process. The soundtrack to the dance would be claps and ululation, a symphony of cultural celebration.
The celebratory hymns of the spiritual wedding encourage dancing. Sometimes, this is simple swaying in the conservative churches, but can degenerate into full blown dances accompanied by singing, drums, guitar and cymbals of the church band. Some people are perfectly comfortable with having a religious party.
With time, I have learnt to watch, detached, the various dance routines. Holding a soft drink, smiling and nodding in encouragement to those that jerk, sway, and sashay on the dancefloor. The wedding reception though, exposed me as a fraud. You see, I am an African, but I cannot dance.
Vaperekedzi (the wedding party) are select individuals who sit at “The High Table” with the couple. An equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen accompany the bride and groom. These are then “paired” up for the wedding. Wearing co-ordinated attire, they add ambiance and colour to the ceremony. Vaperekedzi may be chosen from friends, church or work but are mostly siblings or cousins from the family of the bride and groom.
Vaperekedzi invariably, have to partake in steps (choreographed) dancing. Steps are serious business! It is quite normal for vaperekedzi to spend weeks or months practising the choreography, sometimes, for 3 hours a day. Invariably, a coach is employed to teach the wedding dance. My adolescence is full of memories of the guidance, “Side by side, side by side, 1, 2, 3, 4 and variation!”
I could master the “sequence” of the dance relatively easily, at the very least, as well as my peers. When to step, lock, spin, swivel, kneel, form a circle or transition from one dance to the next. Steps are, after all, a highly structured affair. I couldn’t, for the life of me, master the rhythm. The spirit of dancing called for flexibility, timing and joy expressed in motion. My two wooden left feet would stage a revolt against groove.
As a young adult, I have accepted my weakness. I am water, dancing is oil: we do not mix. But, as a teenage boy, this stiff body was a source of trauma. Being a muperekedzi was supposed to be a great honour; being part of the bridal party an exclusive privilege. The long period of learning the dance, an opportunity to mix and mingle with the other family, bond with the girls, and maybe even initiate a romance. A few weddings have been birthed from bridal parties.
Unfortunately, the single most desirable characteristic, is your ability to dance. I come from a family of bad dancers. But this was only a small comfort. I am the worst dancer of the lot, so relatively speaking, my desirability was questionable.
The “pairing” of vaperekedzi was highly competitive. A Blood sport. Each of the guys would want to be paired with the most beautiful, most agile, most desirable bridesmaid. The same rivalry existed amongst bridesmaids: a partnership with the most eligible bachelor. In awarding pairings where they could not naturally be attained, the wedding coach yielded much power.
I do remember one wedding of high attrition. Chido (not her real name) was a diva. Gorgeous, academically successful, well-spoken, fashionable, flirty and above all, a brilliant dancer. They say arrogance backed by skill is confidence, so Chido being a diva was earned.
Two days before the wedding, the coach was to announce the pairings. He was unhappy about the lack of harmony in the group, and encouraged all to work together, “for the good of the wedding.” In particular, he did not like Chido’s attitude: walking around like she owned the place. So, he gave her the ultimate punishment: he paired her with me. PANDEMONIUM!!!
Chido threw a tantrum! In front of the entire bridal party, she went into a rant: “I will partner with who I want, and you can’t tell me anything. Who are you? I am the little sister to the bride. This is OUR wedding. In fact, I will not stay around for this nonsense!” She stormed off and got into a car, leaving the bridal party in stunned silence. I knew what I had to do. “She can partner Taridzo Makoni (his real name). It’s ok. I don’t mind having a different partner.”
My peace offering was (begrudgingly) accepted and I ended up with Mutsa (not real name). She was 3 years younger than all other bridesmaids, a shy and reserved child amongst teenage egos. A pairing of convenience, in service of the greater good.
The wedding itself proceeded without incident. The church ceremony was full of singing and swaying. The reception had copious amounts of wedding rice, chicken and coleslaw salad. The bridal party occupied the high table in conferred importance. Vaperekedzi did the steps with significant enthusiasm but varying degrees of competence. The cake was cut, the bride and groom got hitched.
But, my memories of that wedding have less to do with the ceremony itself, but a high degree of introspection two days prior. In an exercise of self-awareness; I am an African, but I can’t dance.
My now, I bet you know this hilarious post wasn’t authored by me…LOL.
Yes, it is one of the pieces I worked on with Valentine Writes, who writes HERE. We intend to make this a blog chain. That is, we are calling on as many African writers/bloggers as possible to jump on the “I’m African but…” train.
All you have to do is to creatively write on anything you are expected to know how to do or be as an African but you can’t do, don’t like to do or you simply are not. After which, you can send to firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com, and we will share on our platforms and yours, of course.