News / Africa

    Nigerian Artist Inspires South Africans to Get Up And Boogie

    Vera Ephraim, the dynamic Nigerian who's making a name for herself in South Africa with her unique dance classes, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Taylor for VOA)
    Vera Ephraim, the dynamic Nigerian who's making a name for herself in South Africa with her unique dance classes, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Taylor for VOA)
    Darren Taylor

    An acclaimed Nigerian actress and dancer is inspiring growing numbers of people in South Africa to get up and boogie. Vera Ephraim is also an award-winning choreographer, having collaborated with a host of celebrated African musicians, including South Africa's Hugh Masekela and Nigeria's Femi Kuti. Darren Taylor has more from Johannesburg.

    A lithe woman, Ephraim, clad in a turquoise vest and wide, patterned pants shouts instructions inside a studio in Johannesburg. Her thick, black curls glisten with sweat as she explains how she began her unique mission here about a year ago.

    “I had a lot of encouragement from a group of friends who said, ‘Vera, you know, can you start a dance class; I really want to know what Western African dance looks like, what it sounds like; what it feels like; how is it different from southern African movement?’”

    Accomplished dancer

    Ephraim has university diplomas in performance art from Britain, has danced in productions across Europe and acted in some of South Africa’s top TV shows.
     
    Now, though, she is busy with what she describes as "her greatest challenge yet": teaching complete novices the art of traditional West African dancing.

    Ephraim says West African dances are very fast, driven by a particular drum beat.

    “In West Africa, we use a lot of djembe drumming," she explains. "The rhythm is different also of course because djembe produces up to four, five rhythms on its own…”

    Among her eager pupils is Renske van den Hof, a social policy analyst from the Netherlands. She says the djembe “frees” her and makes her feel a part of the continent.

    “The drums obviously help to feel more of an African feeling; you get a more African vibe to it [the dancing]” she says.

    Vera Ephraim and her students demonstrate a West African 'harvesting dance' in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Taylor for VOA)
    Vera Ephraim and her students demonstrate a West African 'harvesting dance' in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Taylor for VOA)

    Getting their groove on

    Ephraim says West African dancers use a lot of hip movement and dance with their whole bodies. In what she calls a “harvesting dance,” her students hurl their bodies forward while their arms scrape the floor.

    “If you’re harvesting, your arms are plucking the apples or your arms are digging up the yams from the soil," she explains.

    Ephraim also fuses more modern African music with djembe drums to “spice things up” for her students. She explains that the dances she teaches have story lines.

    “This dance is from Ghana; it’s for marriage. And this movement here signifies the girl is being shy, the girl is being shy; she’s shaking the shoulder. And then this is the guy posing like, ‘I see you; I’m coming over,' " she tells her students.

    Ephraim's dancers are a diverse bunch, from domestic workers to rich businessmen to Emi Kawamura, an administrator for a Japanese car company.

    “Even if we are just a beginner, even if we don’t know the technique, we can always enjoy [the dance classes]," Kawamura says.

    Ephraim's current dance classes are attended by expatriates in Johannesburg. (Photo: Darren Taylor for VOA)
    Ephraim's current dance classes are attended by expatriates in Johannesburg. (Photo: Darren Taylor for VOA)

    Expats love it

    Ephraim’s present classes have been filled up by a group of expatriate professionals.

    For procurement manager Laura Del Castillo, from Spain, West African dancing is “fun and challenging.”

    “It’s a great experience of just listening to music, and not thinking of anything else but concentrating on what step you have to do next, and just laughing about yourself and how wrong you’re doing it!” she says laughing, joined by the other students in the class.

    Alejandro Campero, an economist from Mexico, says she’s learning West African dance purely because of Ephraim’s “dynamism.”

    “She’s always full of good energy and has this power that not everybody [has]. She gets everybody into the mood, and that’s so nice," Campero says.

    Ephraim says nothing gives her more satisfaction than watching her students grow, and connect with West African movements and stories, here in the heart of South Africa.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora