an analysis By Jairos Gonye
Chibhasikoro and borrowdale dance routines have been the most fascinating dance features in Zimbabwe since Independence in 1980. Chibhasikoro is a dance apparently popular with farm and growth point settings and involves peculiar moves resembling a bicycle rider’s pedalling strokes. Borrowdale is originally a ghetto dance whose popular moves seem to imitate those of a horse rider and the horse as seen competing at the well known and affluent Borrowdale Race-course in Harare.The chibhasikoro and borrowdale moves, respectively, are interpreted as reminiscent of the ‘cargo cult’ whereby African dancers, in their want, theatrically denote their wish to ride bicycles and horses while connoting underlying desires to have improved social and economic status. Both dances seem to be enacted all over Zimbabwe and unlike the traditional socio-cultural-specific dances (mbakumba, jerusarema or muchongoyo), Chibhasikoro and borrowdale are more national rather than ethnic. Both dances are viewed as social, psychological and entertainment tools of communication.
Background:In colonial Rhodesia farm settlements where the largely dispossessed Africans sojourned, the farm shop and beer hall turned into cultural exchange and entertainment centres after a long day of farming. In particular, community-produced dancers and musicians would perform for social entertainment on the farms during weeknights and for commercial purposes in towns during weekends. Among the popular names were; Somanje, Chimbetu and Tazvida, from Marondera, Chegutu and Masvingo farms, respectively. Their 1980’s musical compositions were a mixture of; jiti, sungura and chachacha and they experienced a simultaneous rise with the chibhasikoro dance.
Considerable energy is expended with dancers using all their body zones. Dancers exhibit exceptional footwork, dexterously stepping their feet forwards and backwards at a rapid alternate pace like cyclists, while they simultaneously mimick the action of throwing morsels (of sadza?)in their mouths.The dancers have their upper waists loosely and obliquely pivoted to allow free shaking of the hips and buttocks. Intricate moves; performed with legs bent in a crouching fashion, reveal the dancers’ athletic agility. Their upper bodies produce several gestures and moves that are in sync with the movements of the lower half. Hands stretch out to imaginary bicycle handle bars. Bars; which freely dissolve into automobile gears.
The dance reaches a full gallop as the dancer pull out to the front and draw his second and last fingers out like ears of race horses, while the imaginary competitors chase on. The rider moves on coordinated feet, a hand intermittently urging the ‘horse’ on, facial gestures and head movements corroborating the energy sapping nature of the dance.
With its origins in capitalist commerce, borrowdale dance was essentially performed to entertain the betting spectators at the racecourse. Yet, we see the poor urbanites harness the dance to communicate their pent up social grievances and wants, disguised in the wish to win the anual OK Grand Challenge prize.
A male dancer observed that, “Borrowdale is a poor ghetto man’s dance with a rich man’s name. It’s not by coincidence that dancers imitate horses competing at Borrowdale Racecourse. They also dream of one day owning a house in Borrowdale. It shows how people cling on to false hope in order to cope with poverty and want.”
The idea of imitation mentioned here is an expression of what is expected. If the early hunters’ hunting catch dance prefigured the desired catch, by analogy, punters bet because they expect to win and dancers dance borrowdale because they also want the good life associated with Borrowdale suburb. This is reminiscent of the spirit shown in cargo cultism, particularly inspired by the difficult lifestyles the have-nots lead, while constantly being bombarded with possibility images.
Once I achieved a keener appreciation of borrowdale from watching Alick Macheso go through it. Macheso looked such an innovative hybrid master mixer. In partnership with the flexible Franko Dhaka (Slomo), the duo performed some delightful kangaroo-like spring dances, twisting their thighs like razor wire. Then, having exhausted all the other competitors out of the borrowdale gallop, the pair apparently wrestled technique from technology. And, inscribing photo-finish technology unto themselves, they performed the dance in slow motion - conscious that they were creating an unprecedented choreography in Zimbabwe dance. On reflection, I saw that this was an instance of innovative improvisation of skills that guarantee beauty and perfection in whatever art form.
As if to say, our dance is as fast as the racing horse, therefore to appreciate it, you need to ‘slow motion’ the dance, Macheso and Slomo effectively obliterated the boundary between performed dance and technology. They sent cameramen rushing to shoot the ‘illusion’ of the ‘horses’ in slow motion. Though borrowdale dance is synonymous with Macheso, in Zimbabwe, it is generally agreed nobody owns a dance just as nobody owns the daily multiplying language.
Conclusion: The two dances have become as culturally meaningful as mbakumba, jerusarema or muchongoyo. The difference is that the two contemporary dances have no ethnic borders inscribing them unlike the three indigenous dances named above.
On the surface, chibhasikoro or borrowdale may denote joy, contentment and play acting, but underneath, they connote complex messages such as comments on farm labourers’ grievances with their lifestyles, urban struggles and the desire to lead less stultifying, but fulfilling lives.