Former first lady Michelle Obama has been making headlines for busting a groove at a Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert in Paris, but her husband may have her beat, dancing in his father's hometown with his half sister and step-grandmother. Obama's dance moves in Africa were on full display both days, when he let loose in Kenya with family and then again in South Africa while acknowledging Nelson Mandela's birthday.
The first opportunity to let loose came at the event put on by his half sister, Auma Obama. She opened a youth center in the town where their dad was from as a part of an organization she runs, Sauti Kuu Foundation, to help youth become self reliant.
At the opening ceremony — as captured on video — Obama can be seen in his seat feeling the music. Then he stands up quickly and starts moving to the beat. At one point he gestures to the people around him to see if they approve or are going to join in.
Shortly thereafter, they do. Even his step-grandmother Sarah Obama got out of her wheelchair to join him — and she's 96. With help from Obama and Auma, she showed him how it was done. In one clip, the grandmother pulls along the family that's supposed to be supporting her.
Obama spoke about the important role that Kenya has in his life and how it felt to be back. He said that his first visit to the village was a mixture of a train and minibus trip with "some chickens in my lap and some sweet potatoes digging into my side." On that trip he went to his step-grandmother's house.
He was just 27 and made the trip to his father's grave, and on Monday said nothing could be more meaningful. "It gave me a sense of satisfaction that no five-star hotel could ever provide. Because it connected you to your past, and it connected you to the stories of those that came before you."
Now, it's like coming home. "It is a joy to be back with so many people who are family to me, and so many people who claim to be family. Everybody's a cousin!"
But that wasn't the only time that Obama was dancing in Africa this trip. In South Africa, he danced on stage at the remembrance for Mandela. He was joined by the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and a famous South African singer, Thandiswa Mazwai.
There, he did more than dance. He gave a speech that many have thought was an attack on Trump's showing in Helsinki with Putin. Obama sounded like many consumers of news in 2018, when he noted "each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines." He went on to stay it's "just a fact."
But, just as he danced in South Africa, he also had some positive words to say, even when much looks bleak. Obama said:
It's tempting right now to give in to cynicism. To believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back. That the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the '90s, now you're hearing people talk about the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism, because we've been through darker times.
These two days of appearances may not be as straightforward fun as a Beyoncé concert, but Obama was dancing his way through it anyway.