Updated: Mar 2
I spent a lot of my weekends and school holidays standing in front of the TV watching all the black pop stars' music videos to learn the choreography. The facial expressions, the drama of the costumes and the way the videographer used the camera to emphasize the hit-pop-and-stomp combos made me feel energised. One notable characteristic in these music videos are the overtly sexual dance moves. These were innocent movements to me in the comfort of my parent's living room, but at the same I was child. I grew into a young girl and am now a woman. Living in South Africa, vile and inappropriate comments about amathanga am amhlophe (my light-skinned thighs), hips and big legs were made by strange men and some women who should've known better. I assumed more masculine habits, dress sense and mannerisms hoping this would protect my dignity.
Many black women in Africa and across the diaspora have abandoned femininity and sensuality for various reasons, but I think at the core this was developed out of the need to protect ourselves. To clarify, sensuality does not have to be sexual. It is simply being pleasing to the senses or enjoying, expressing or pursuing physical pleasure. Sensuality is so foreign that it feels like a threatening thing to explore. Historically, sensuality has felt like the worst kind of vulnerability. It's unfortunate because I think that it's one of the most beautiful things about being a woman.
That energised feeling I got when copying Beyoncé choreo, I didn't stop chasing it. At night when it's quiet, I shift the furniture, go to YouTube and watch choreographers' interpretations of the whatever song they're into. The day I discovered Aliya Janell's channel and her dance brand Queens N’ Lettos was the day I rediscovered what it means to be a woman that is comfortable with her sensuality and energy.
What I love about her videos is that she starts with a small speech, encouraging her students to feel the music, to let go of their inhibitions and allow themselves to feel comfortable trying and failing. She wants you to know what she knows about womanhood; you can feel the sisterhood (she also encourages the men in her class to explore their feminine energy, which is amazing to see). Combining masculine hip-hop moves with slow, sensual stretching movements, she conveys to us the many energies that exist within one woman's body.
I have realised that despite the trying times we are facing, there is beauty in being a woman and it lies in that vulnerability. The softness and compassion it comes with makes being us an honour I hope to never take for granted again.
Aliya Janell's Instagram handles: @thealiyajanell @queensnlettosofficial
By Nande Nodada