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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 09:54 GMT
DR Congo's dancing grannies
Papa Wendo with his dance group
The Rhumba is a respectful dance

When 58-year-old Anne Pandajina's grandchildren ask her why she cannot stop singing and dancing, her answer is blunt:

"If I have two or three days without dancing, my bottom won't be OK!"


Since I married and had all my children I found out that if you want to dance calmly, with dignity and serenity, you have to dance the Rhumba

Beatrice Sonzo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is known for having some of the best music and most suggestive dancers in Africa - irrespective of their age.

Like the other dancing grannies of geriatric Rhumba star Papa Wendo, Anne might be old in body, but she is certainly not old in spirit.

"I think dancing must be in my blood," she says.

Papa Wendo, Kinshasa's oldest recording artist, formed his dancing troupe two years ago, when he came out of retirement.

Anne, who had never been a professional dancer before, was recruited at her local church.

Like the others she just could not refuse the offer to dance to her favourite music - old time Rhumba.

Smooth

"My friends told me to come quick, come quick to Wendo's house. I was the first they asked!"

Anne gives me a dance lesson but as my two feet stumble over each other trying to keep up with her smooth, flowing moves, I receive some old-fashioned advice.

Zaiko Langa Langa
Congolese dancers are known for their suggestive poses

"You really shouldn't drink, and don't smoke cigarettes, you've got to stop things like that. At a dance, you have to be smooth."

Papa Wendo, who calls himself "the Great Baobab" started singing on the vast river ferries that traverse the country, well before Congo's independence in 1960.

His Latin-influenced music has not changed much since then, but is still hugely popular.

"It's not like the music of the young people, which is too active, like a sport, like boxing," explains Mpiosi Manyoma, 63.

Respectful

Mpiosi says she has loved its rhythms since 1957 when she and her husband danced the Rhumba at their wedding.

Now, she is doing it in front of large crowds - most of whom are much younger than the dancers and musicians.

But she is not embarrassed.

"It's a respectful dance. When you dance in front of all the children it is very respectful, I can keep my dignity."

Beatrice Sonzo agrees, and says she no longer dances to Kinshasa's gyrating dance steps such as the Ndombolo, Kwasa Kwasa or Tsaku Libondanse (the Parrot dance) made famous by Pepe Kalle, Zaiko Langa Langa, and Wenge Musica.

"Now that I've grown older, and since I married and had all my children I found out that if you want to dance calmly, with dignity and serenity, you have to dance the Rhumba."

See also:

11 Nov 99 | Crossing Continents
30 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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