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Spreading the joy of gumboots

Photo by Abigail Malsin (website)

Six second-year medical students—all women—are part of a fairly new tradition at Dartmouth: gumboot dancing. The style of dance, which originated in South Africa, was performed by mineworkers, "who used it as a way to relieve boredom and entertain themselves during their breaks," according to DMS student Ogochukwu Okpala, who is known as "Ogo." A Nigerian, Okpala learned gumboot dancing from a South African friend at McGill, where she did her undergraduate work and was president of the African Student Society.

"No background music is used—instead, the beats and rhythms come from the slapping of hands against the gumboots and stomping of gumboots on the ground. It's really quite a fun dance both to watch and perform," Okpala explains. She even taught gumboot dancing one semester as a Dartmouth College FLIP (Fitness and Lifestyle Improvement Program) class—part of a series of fitness courses open to anyone in the Dartmouth community.

The DMS Gumboots were founded last year by then-second- year student Kamel Addo, who is now completing his third year at Brown. "I also started teaching some people in my class the dance," says Okpala, "so that when Kamel left for Brown, and with most of the dancers going into third year, DMS would still be able to continue this tradition." She is now hoping that someone else will take up leadership of the gumboot group, since she's also about to leave to do her third- and fourth-year work at Brown.

The Koop Institute's Healing Arts program invited the gumboot dancers to perform in the rotunda at DHMC this year. They have performed in other Upper Valley venues as well, including for the children of the Lebanon Housing Authority and at DMS Visiting Days, a weekend for students accepted to the next year's class. "When we perform it for people, they say, 'Wow!'" Okpala reports.

For the moment, though, the members of the group have hung up their gumboots to mine their books as they prepare for end-of-the-year exams and boards.

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