TOUBAB DIALAW, Senegal (AP)—The glow of a tobacco pipe illuminates the stage before dancer Germaine Acogny begins to move. She uses a simple black cloth to portray her many identities: African, creator, mother, mystic and object of desire.
At 73, Acogny commands attention with a movement as simple as a turn of the wrist. A new film about her dance career, along with this solo piece choreographed just for her, are deepening her mark on the next generation of African dancers.
“She’s like the lighthouse at the sea,” said Mohamed Y. Shika, a 28-year-old Egyptian dancer and one of her students. “You know when you’re at sea and you can’t see anything and you see this light coming from so far, and this is the track you should keep on going for, I think this is Mama Germaine.”
Acogny is best known for fusing West African and modern dance. She has been sharing her decades-old technique with young artists from across the continent at L’Ecole des Sables, French for the School of Sands, in a remote fishing village in Senegal.
Dance is the mother of all arts, she says. The new film about her career, “Iya Tunde: The Mother Came Back,” was released in May as Dakar’s French Institute dedicated a festival to her.
“The greatest influence on me has been the traditional dances of my country. It’s that which gave me ideas, it’s my influence, it’s that which is my roots and it’s that which is at my base,” Acogny told The Associated Press. “If you don’t know well where you come from, you will not go far.”
She grew up embracing tradition while challenging traditional roles in West African society.