English: Poetry Commentary Haven’t I Danced the Big Dance? By Jack Mapanje

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English: Poetry Commentary Haven’t I Danced the Big Dance? By Jack Mapanje

The poem ‘Haven’t I danced the big dance?’ by Jack Mapanje concerns

the traditional rain dance of a proud tribesman. The modern

representation of his dance that he sees today provokes this nostalgic

and emotional response.

The speaker, a formal tribal rain dancer, is thinking back to the time

when he used to dance this traditional dance, and looking at the new

generation, dancing only for show, with sadness. The poem is divided

into three stanzas, the two first ones being dedicated to the past,

when he was a dancer, and the last one to the present. The first

stanza talks about the way he used to dance this traditional rain

dance, in a circle around the drums, with amulets, anklets and snakes.

The second stanza is insisting on the energy he put into this dance,

on how good he was. The third stanza brings us to the present time,

now that his daughters are doing the dance, more as an attraction for

tourists than as a real tradition, and the speaker is not able to show

them the real meaning of the dance.

This rain dance is part of the speaker’s traditions, and he seems to

be very attached to it. He remembers the way they danced it in the

arena to the sound of the big drums. They used to wear special clothes

and use specific accessories, ‘Skins wriggled with amulets

Rattled with anklets’

to make the dance seem real and magical, at the same time. It had a

real value for the speaker. However, this dance, in which he had put

so much energy into when he was younger,

‘How I quaked the earth

How my skin trembled

How my neck peaked’

had not kept the same value. He talks about the way the new

generation, his daughters’ generation, dances the dance now, and

emphasised the lack of authenticity it has. He says they just wear

‘babble-idea-men-masks’, to make it look like a traditional rain dance

to tourists, while it is not really. He compares the ‘mystic drums’ he

used to dance to, with the ‘slack drums’ his daughters dance to now.

Finally, he lets us understand he would like to show the new

generation how the big dance is supposed to be danced, what its

original value.

However, this helplessness is not the only emotion felt in this poem.

At the beginning, the speaker reminisces on the old days, his glory

days, both with happiness and excitement and with sadness and regret.

As he describes the different characteristics of the dance and the way

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