Michezo: Dance, Sports and Politics in Tanzania

  • Anne Leseth Oslo University College
Keywords: Michezo, sport, dance, cultural continuity, mimesis, embodiment


This paper serves to demonstrate the manner in which body practices both reflect and, in turn, subtly shape the political contexts and purposes within which they occur. While governments may pay particular attention to how different body practices, such as sports and dance, could be means to advance their political objectives, they can never readily control the ambiguity, complexity and irony that is generated by the performing bodies of social actors. The ethnographic context for this discussion is the performing practices and political discourses on sports and dance in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in the 1990s. The colonial way of doing sports in Tanzania and Eastern Africa required another structuring of time and space different than many of the traditional games. By means of the moralistic ideology of athleticism, schoolboys should have learned the basic tools of imperial command: courage, endurance, assertion, control and selfcontrol. However, the emergence of different dance societies indicates that the colonisation of body practices was not a straightforward process in which people responded without resisting. While the tribal modes of dance continued to attract most women during the British colony, there emerged several dance societies stressing modernity and multi-tribalism. The dance is a crucial demonstration of what Michael Taussig has termed ‘mimesis’. Mimesis is explicitly tied to the body, and through mimesis people can dramatise and negotiate understandings of themselves and of others. This paper draws on historical material as well as extensive fieldwork in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania between 1992 and 1997.