I am not a keen dancer and I think even when put on a stage, I would not draw awe to myself because of my dance styles. But, once upon a time, I was a very great traditional dancer, particularly dancing to the beats from the drum during the kiganda dance as I was one of the members who would close the dance during my childhood days but gone are the days. There are many people like me for whom dance was confined to music, dance and drama competitions or entertainment in school.
However, dance today has evolved. The art has become popular with more people turning to dance classes for fun, to learn a new technique and for fitness. There are more people becoming professional dancers and faces are coming up in similar aspects. With a degree course centred solely on dance at Makerere University, dance is becoming more than a pastime.
But how are we as a country recognising this new culture?
People willing to pay
A visit to the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) gives us a glimpse at the changes dance has gone through. To promote dance, the national theatre as UNCC is more popularly known offered free dance classes from 7pm till 10pm.
A recent visit to the centre reveals that the social dance class is no longer free.
“You have to pay Shs2,000. The classes are no longer free because people were becoming many,” the cashier at the centre shares.
There is class still in progress. Two couples are on the dancefloor, swinging to a quick song in a dance I assume is salsa. Various people, mostly youth, stand on the sides enjoying the movement of the couples on the dance floor. The couples are indeed performing the salsa and had to part with Shs10, 000 for the class.
When it is time for the social dance, everyone is welcomed to the dancefloor. The couples exhibit different stages of learning. Some are good and move around effortlessly while others, like me, must b for the first time as they drop their partners and miss several steps. What everyone has, however, is fun and the zeal to learn.
The class is a sign that more people are willing to pay for dance classes, which explains the fact that there are more dance studios and schools opening, with people willing to enroll their children even as early as three years old.
“Soon we will be introducing a dance fitness work out and this is to get people to appreciate dance and make them pick interest in dancing as an activity,” Upoki says.
Several people are already ahead of Upoki and her partner since dance classes are already on offer at several fitness centres.
To incorporate fun and a good workout, gyms are slowly taking on dance classes alongside or instead of aerobics classes. This has seen the popularity of dances like Zumba and Cheza, which are rigorous dances. With Zumba, dancers go through different genres, from salsa and hip hop to reggae and dance hall in different stages. Every stage changes in difficulty. The first is a warm-up and the last a cool down.
“I have been attending Cheza classes and so far, this is the only routine that has worked for me. Although I’m exercising, I have fun while doing it. The music just gets the blood pumping and I feel like my entire body is being worked out. It was worked at toning my thighs, arms and stomach,” Sophia Namazzi says.
Andrew Mawejje, a dance instructor with In- Motion Dance Studio, which offers these dances says, “We wanted to change Ugandan dancers and put dance on another level because when we started, no one believed in us and what we were delivering.”
Mawejje explored all ways he could make dance a platform of communication. In 2006, he opened the studio and was offering mainly ballroom and Latin danceswhich include tango, cha-cha, waltz, samba, salsa and many others. Now the studio offers lessons hip hop, break dance, modern dance, ballet, and a fitness class.
“We train African dances although I transform traditional dance into African contemporary dance. We usually fuse them with modern dance although the clients interested in it are few.
It is mainly international dances that we train because of the demand which pushes us to give lessons in international dances. This is because some of the clients have travelled and they are interested in learning dances they came across during their trips. Our classes are at Shs20,000 per class although one can pay for ten classes and gets two free classes.”
Why people dance
“It is fun. You don’t have to be a professional. As long as the music is on and you can move your body, it is just a fun thing to do. I like to imitate the people in music videos and learn their moves, especially the ones which just get me smiling,” Isa Rashid, a university student says, when asked why he dances.
Others dance to relieve stress. People hit the club or a popular hangout for good music, music they can dance to and get relax from a week’s stress. Others dance in worship and praise or thanksgiving. Some dance because people around them are doing so. There is a saying that “dancing is like dreaming with your feet”. It must be a good dream for Ugandans becuase we sure love to move it.
As we dance, I kept thinking that the first time I learnt about this dance was in primary school when it was incorporated in a school play. There is another area dance has evolved.
“In the past, we used to rain children in mainly traditional dances for school productions. Then we started dances inspired by music from South Africa such as the Zulu, soon Lingala became popular and now I see ballroom dances, ballet and contemporary dances during productions,” Jackie Zziwa, a teacher who has facilitated music, dance and drama productions in the primary schools she has taught at since 1994 says.
She points out that a lot of the time, dance evolves because of the music which is popular at the time, and the exposure Ugandans have.
Barbara Upoki, a dance instructor and performer with Latin Flavour Uganda is a salsa dance instructor and says this genre is popular with Ugandans. While majority of the couples who take these classes do it for fun, more are taking on the classes for their first dance at their wedding, something that was not so common in the past.
Upoki says the other popular genre is hip-hop. She shares that her partner Ibanda also teaches traditional dances. These dances are popular with people who perform them competitively, for example students in school or to make money as a traditional dance entertainer. For the people who do it for fun, Ibanda fuses elements of African traditional dance with African contemporary.
Dance day in Uganda
With dance’s evolution, we have had celebrations like the dance week festival, which Jonas started in. This year, another dancer Jacqlynne Tumusiime, who describes herself as a danceprenuer started what she hopes will be an annual celebration of World Dance Day.
The celebrations have been taking place at her dance studio in Makindye, Autumn Studios. The day’s focus is in creating awareness about dance what kinds of dances are there, and tackling the challenges dance is facing. “For instance there is a misconception about dances like ballet being for only girls which is not true. The event, which started last Saturday had various ages and both genders participating,” she says
“We mainly teach ballet and contemporary dance also known as modern dance because we understand the use of extracurricular activities such as dance in engaging children and stimulating them to better their education and themselves as individuals because it helps them think more,” she comments on the classes taught.
She also points out that the faces of dance are not widely known, making awareness about the art difficult to coordinate. There are also few dance spaces available for training though this is improving with more people like her opening dance training places.
Dance day celebrations are still going on at the studio with classes at Shs10,000. Each class on another day is usually Shs15,000. The objective of Dance day, Tumusiime shares, is to create dance awareness so that people are able to try out new things instead of only being rigid to traditional dances but rather mix them up.
About dance day
International Dance Day was introduced in 1982 by the International Dance Council (CID, Conseil International de la Danse), a Unesco partner NGO, and is celebrated yearly, on April 29.
The date is not linked to a particular person or a particular form of dance, although it’s also the day when the French dancer and ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre was born.. The main purpose of Dance Day events is to attract the attention of the wider public to the art of dance.
Different countries have special events which they film and upload online, with the tag Dance Day. Last year, what was tagged as the first classical flash mob attracted a lot of attention. The dance took place in India and invloved more then 50 classical dancers.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor