Dzana: Yale's only Afrobeats dance group nurtures a sense of comaraderie

A troupe of dancers in black leotards
The group's name comes from the Shona word meaning "move or dance from excitement."

The members of Dzana, Yale’s first and only Afrobeats dance group, share at least three things in common: an interest in exploring new aspects of African culture, a passion for dancing, and a desire to be part of a vibrant community.

In Shona, a language spoken widely in Zimbabwe, “Dzana” means to move or dance from excitement. This word encapsulates the essence of contemporary African dance today, which prioritizes the use of one’s whole body to communicate joy, happiness, tension and even love, according to the group’s co-directors Ella Dogouo and Jessica Ainooson.

Using music that ranges anywhere from hip hop to lingala to the more jazzy tunes from the continent, Dzana aims to capture the essence of African dance in every performance. They work to showcase dance moves from around the continent, like the Azonto from West Africa, Pantsula from Southern Africa, Lipala from East Africa, and Gnawa from North Africa.

“In Dzana, one of our main goals is building a community where one feels free to express and be themselves and to make mistakes” said Dogouo. “But even more than that, we aim to foster a sense of camaraderie amongst group members that will persist outside of group setting. During rehearsals, while there are times we are serious, there are also times where we laugh at each other’s' silliness, awkwardness, and mistakes. And I think, overall, this helps us feel comfortable with one another.”

Established in 2013, Dzana is now composed of more than 10 dancers from a diverse array of backgrounds, and they stay busy with various performances and competitions throughout the year. They typically hold weekly two-hour rehearsals and perform at events like the Yale African Students Association’s Africa Week Cultural Show.

Dzana dancers shown performing onstage
Dzana presents an Afrogroove show every spring. Here is a scene from the 2017 production, showing the troupe dancing to Babes Wodumo’s “Wololo.”

Former Dzana director Alexandra Leone ‘18 notes: “Weekly rehearsals are the core of Dzana. To dance with your friends is the best break from the daily stress of Yale. We dance and we laugh and we move deeper into ourselves and our team.”

In the spring semester, rehearsals increase as the group begins to prepare for the highlight of Dzana’s calendar, their annual spring show, Afrogroove. Held in the last month of the academic year, Afrogroove is an hour-long dance performance that showcases the diversity of dance from across the African continent through new choreographies created by various members of the group.

“For me, Afrogroove was an exploration of creativity. As a group, we immerse ourselves in African music and dances in order to choreograph dances that we feel represents Dzana as an African dance group” said Ainooson ‘20, who has been a member since her freshman year. “It’s also so much fun to plan a show on our own, and spending hours with a group of people inevitably creates a bond. It really made Dzana feel like a family to me.”

Those interested in joining the Dzana community are encouraged to attend the group’s workshops and performances, held around campus over the course of the year. For more information on Dzana, visit the group’s Facebook page; check out its YouTube channel; or send an email.

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