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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora