Tahitian Dance

I’m sitting under a grapefruit tree in the yard of the école primaire publique. Fabienne’s adult Tahitian dance class just got under way in the preau across the lawn. Since it’s Friday the three-man percussion group accompanies the frenetically swinging hips. At the weathered table in the opposite corner two young women sit like me contemplating the action. One of them holds a baby face down on her thigh and the right hand gently taps the pulse of the ancient rhythm onto the little boy’s pamper padded teeny tiny butt. The young girls from the afternoon class are still hanging around giggling and dirtying their undies that peak out from underneath the bright red pareos by sliding down the well-worn railing of the concrete stairway that comes down from the row of classroom buildings on the upper terrace.

The rhythm is intrinsically complicated, rattled onto elaborately carved wooden drums. The probably foot wide hand drums have their goat hide stretched hard to give a high-pitched sound. There are wooden logs carved hollow with a slit on top. They are played with two sticks held gingerly between thumbs and index fingers. A rattle is made of a bamboo culm segment, attached at one end to a stand, while the other has been crushed to be split it into many lengthwise segments that shiver under other more hastily dancing sticks. The driving persistence of the more voluminous bass drum keeps the whole structure from shattering into a million pieces of incongruent acoustic information.

Fabienne’s teaching is engaging, high energy, driven by a deep knowledge of the tradition. Stepping away for a moment from demonstrating the routine her intense stare scans across the forty or so students of hers and her shrill voice calls to attention one by one, securely placing surnames before each specific instruction. Then she sharply turns to the musicians, where something wasn’t just right.

The tired branches, each loaded with two or three triplets of giant green grapefruits, seem to start bending down around me as if intending to pull me down with them into the fertile volcanic soil, where multitude of seeds will germinate amongst a microbial fury of decomposition. Precise timing and coordination with the cosmic movements selects the fittest for survival who become trees of their own, while the baby’s neurological transmission lines leading from the tender buttocks to the still mushy cortex create easily and elaborately a bridge of astonishing complexity between the way two and more generations live out their lives. Knowledge is passed on without knowing. Structures are instilled without the violence of teaching. Life is adding zillions of little zeros to the eons that have come and gone. In the meantime overhead in the now tender blue sky of the late afternoon the puffy trade wind clouds continue their mass migration, globally distributing heat and at the same time wandering freely and willingly towards their yet undefined but clearly mended destiny.


2 Responses to “Tahitian Dance”

  1. Angela Zawadzki Says:

    Fabulous! Where is Betty? is she one of the dancers?



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