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Dance and drama: The spirit of Africa

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By Jane Bowerconsultant to primary schools in art, drama, dance and literacy

Use our new multi-resource dance and drama series to evoke the essence of Africa


Use African wildlife to inspire dance and drama


Dance curriculum links

  • Geography – African climate, landscape, population
  • PHSE and SEAL – caring for others, practical ways we can help
  • RE – how and why people pray
  • Science – how heat affects people and materials
  • Art – jungles, animals, black/white conflict paintings, sunrises, waterpots, African fabrics
  • Music – African rhythms, songs, voice techniques, instruments

Learning objective: To discover a range of facts about Africa and interpret them through dance.

You will need: suitable space for dancing; music equipment; Poster, ‘The Spirit of Africa’; Activity sheet 1, ‘African facts’; Track 1, ‘Adiemus’ from Adiemus – Songs of Sanctuary); African savannah or jungle backdrop sound effects, or individual examples of African animal sounds, such as those on Interactive resource, ‘Interactive Africa’; Activity sheet 2, ‘African dance plan’ and pencils.


  1. As a class, study the facts on Activity sheet 1, ‘African facts’ and look at the images on the Poster, ‘The spirit of Africa’. Discuss and list any movement that could be inspired by these facts and images, such as shimmering heat, working in the fields, jungle animals, queues of refugees.
  2. Decide which of these scenarios lend themselves to working individually, in pairs, groups, or as a class, and experiment with some movement ideas, selecting those which seem to portray the idea well.
  3. Play the track ‘Adiemus’ (the composer uses African voice techniques, and the soloist grew up in Africa) and allow the class to improvise to it and reach a consensus on what part of the dance fits with each section of music. Ideas and final order can be recorded on Activity sheet 2, ‘African dance plan’.
  4. A suggested order that has worked well is:
    • Introduction: Slow sunrise – three children rising in an arc with hands held. The remaining children are the sleeping desert.
    • Heatwave: The whole room becomes a baking heatwave, undulating and shimmering.
    • Toiling in the heat: Children digging to the rhythm, weaving with their hands, carrying waterpots on their heads.
    • Giving thanks: Children give thanks for food and shelter – all in a circle mirroring the movement of one leader.
    • Jungle: Some pairs make twisted trees, others make animals crawling through their shapes.
    • Refugees: Children can be limping, supporting each other, in an endless circular queue.
    • Conflict: Two opposing parallel lines to represent black and white people. They could meet in the middle and portray conflict in slow motion, as if on a silent newsreel (see ‘Tips & techniques’, below). Movement freezes as the music fades to indicate that this conflict is still unresolved.

Tips & techniques

  • It is helpful to stress that facial expression is very important in this dance, particularly in the slow motion conflict, which can be powerful and moving if it is carried out with care.
  • Another important aspect is that each part of the dance should flow or ‘melt’ into the next. Practise ‘melting’ from the toiling to the prayer circle, or from the jungle shapes to the refugee queue, so that the dance becomes seamless and flows like the music.
  • To symbolise colour prejudice, divide the class into two sides for the ‘conflict’ section – blue and red T-shirts opposite green and yellow.


Drama curriculum links

  • Literacy – study other creation stories, write your own
  • PHSE and SEAL – sharing tasks, teamwork
  • Art – pattern in snake and animal skins, spiders and webs
  • Geography – Ghana’s location, landscape and climate
  • RE – The Creation story
  • Science/history – how animals evolve

Learning objective: To see how an African creation story can be used as an inspiration for drama.

You will need: suitable space to enact the story; Activity sheet 3, ‘Why the snake has no legs’; optional masks (see Activity sheet 4, ‘African animal masks’) and audio effects of African animals (available on Interactive resource, ‘Interactive Africa’).


  • Share the Ghanian creative story on Activity sheet 3, ‘Why the snake has no legs’. Ask the class to list the main characters mentioned in it and agree who should be cast in these roles.
  • Each remaining class member should choose an African animal to represent in the drama. These should be as varied and realistic as possible. Decide on ways to make it clear to an audience what animals they are, by accurate movement, sound (refer to audio effect) and/or visual clues such as a mask (see Activity sheet 4, ‘African animals masks’) or face paint.
  • Look for opportunities in the story to flesh out the drama, such as ‘one day they decided to build a new farm’. Improvise this discussion, letting several animals take part. ‘The animals grew very tired of him’ and ‘The poor animals were heartbroken’ also offer opportunities for putting these emotions into words. Select the best ideas from this improvisation to include in the finished piece, aiming to give each child a speaking role.

Tips & techniques

  • If you are performing this for an assembly, encourage the children to use normal, clear speaking voices, so that they can be heard, but indicate which animal they are through the methods mentioned in the activity.
  • As many characters are ‘on stage’ at one time, take care not to obscure the main speakers – let them step forward or stand to ensure that they are seen and heard. The mask templates on Activity sheet 4, ‘African animal masks’ are designed so that they do not cover the mouth.
  • The audio effect can be faded in and out to open and close the drama.