The faces of dance in Uganda

Julius Lugaaya- Dance week festival

When Julius Lugaaya returned from Russia 10 years ago, he was spurred to put all he had learnt to good use. He had just attended training in Moscow at the Centre for International Theatre Development. He began Dance week which brings together dancers.

He designed the festival as a platform where dancers in the region meet and exchange ideas about technique methods and train through performing different dance forms. Promotion of new talent in the region is also part of the design.

Dance as an art form has grown so fast. There are about 10 companies that perform at the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC). There is a ballet school, about eight dance studios in and outside Kampala, television shows, flash mobs, et cetera.

As a dancer, Lugaaya has started the dancers’ network and has instructed at the Kampala Ballet School before. All this in the name of creating a visible dance scene in the country. His journey began in school.

Lugaaya is an alumni of Namasagali College, a school where music, dance and drama were given priority. “When our turn came, I said, we have this opportunity, we need to take it to another level,” he says. He began Dance week in 2003.

In the same year, he got a chance to go for artists’ residences and trainings in Nairobi, Madagascar and Moscow-Russia, where dance had grown. When he returned home, he talked to cultural agencies like Alliance Francaise Kampala for support to kick-start a dance week festival.

UNCC did not take him serious at the time, and gave him less busy days like Monday to Thursday, which Lugaaya willingly took. He contacted Makerere University which runs a dance and drama curriculum. Students from the institution got a chance to showcase their talent.

“At that time, I was running a company called Footsteps with a friend called Rogers Masaba. Through Footsteps, we nurtured more dancers that are of interest right now- for example Jonas Byaruhanga, Wendy Oyera, and others who now live abroad,” he recollects.

Twelve years later, Lugaaya says dance is now an accepted art form partly because of his efforts. More dance studios and styles have picked on and so have media outlets like television stations.

He adds that the challenge today is with training resources for the public in the different dances. “I believe we need better training facilities such as studios, more teachers to be trained and performing spaces because all these go hand-in-hand. We have limited performing spaces. We need a theatre in each of the suburbs or districts.

The youth are the biggest employees of arts and culture,” the 41-year-old dancer observes.

Jesse Jenkins Kakooza

He is a dancer, teacher, choreographer and a dance fitness instructor. His journey as a dancer started when he was still in school, at Kampala Parents School. He got an opportunity to work with Jimmy Katumba and the Ebonies.

The Ebonies contacted Kampala Parents’ School because they needed young dancers. Kakooza was chosen. “We used to go to Ebonies Village and practise. It was not easy mixing dance with studies. We used to perform a song with Stella Nanteeza. That is where my career started,” he recalls.

After Kampala Parents’, he went to Namilyango College School for O-Level, where he participated in dance competitions dubbed “Mr Ngo”. He did not win the title but people started calling him “Mr Ngo” because his peers believed that he deserved to win.

He then joined Namasagali College School for A-Level, where he developed his skill in contemporary dance. After high school, he went to England where he got placement at Laban School of Dance.

“I did a six-month course in Laban which I completed and then I continued to do performing arts in dance because I was told I had to improve my speech.

This was at West Thames College in England. It was a two-year course but I did it in one year because they looked at the certificates I had got from Namasagali as a performer. I went on and did an African Caribbean contemporary dance course at Richmond College in London,” he recollects.

He returned to Uganda in 2008. A year later, he was contacted to be a judge for NTV’s dance competition, Hot Steps alongside Ronnie Mulindwa and Michael Kasaija. He then went into teaching dance.

“People who want to keep fit, lose weight and feel confident. These are people who don’t want to go for aerobics but want something energetic and fun, so in an hour, that is what we do,” Kakooza explains.

Allen Kyarisima- Salsa and Latin Flavour

Allen Kyarisima is a dancer and audio-drama director. She instructs Latin dances, of Salsa, Rumba and Samba. She says of all the Latin styles, Ugandans are drawn towards Salsa dance.

“Salsa dance involves a couple dancing. It is therefore a social dance, though it can also be professional. It is a dance that you can use to talk about yourself. You can also use it for relief and therapy,” she explains.

Kyarisima holds lessons and practice sessions at Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC). She is self-taught. Like many dancers, she began dancing at a tender age, while at Kibuli Demonstration School. On Sundays she would participate in drama sessions at Nsambya, Church of Uganda.

“When I started coming to theatre, there were different dances going on. I particularly got interested in contemporary dance. This was around 1998,” she recalls. She was 20 and asked to join. One of the dance tutors, Simona, invited her. Over the years, she fine-tuned her act.

Today, she is a dance tutor, with classes on Monday and Thursday, from 7pm to 8pm and on Friday from 5.30pm to 7pm. Revellers part with Shs10, 000 to be part of the classes. Kyarisima says dancers come for different reasons.

“Some come to learn Salsa because they have been impressed by a person they saw dancing, others want to come to relieve stress while the bigger number comes to shape their bodies. This is particularly for women who use dance as an exercise,” the dance tutor adds. The 36-year-old sees dance becoming a dominant art because it offers variety.

Moses Kawooya- traditional

If there was a dance form classified as a big-belly dancing then Moses Kawooya would be Uganda’s star, because his fame is all thanks to the way he rhythmically shakes his big belly.

The fame has crossed villages and towns and has now got him a semi-permanent place at the airport runway as part of the entertainment entourage that welcomes dignitaries on official duty.

They include, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, leader of the Swaminarayan religion, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete.

“I had never dreamt of meeting the President of the US. He shook my hands and when I danced, he happily danced along. I was overwhelmed. When he was bidding farewell, I gave him an ecstatic send off,” Kawooya recalls For US president, Bill Clinton’s visit to Uganda.

Kawooya heads a group of traditional dancers called Sanyu African Music and Dramatic Society (SAMADS).

Together with his group, he has monopolised the entertainment scene at several official functions.

Abdul Muyingo Kinyenya- BreakdanceAfri fusions

He is a founding member of the Break Dance Project- Uganda, an artistic director of Taboo Flow Dance Company and founder Batalo East, a dance organisation that is behind the Batalo Dance Festival.

Abdul Muyingo Kinyenya began dancing with a friend, Hakim Zziwa. They were both boys in primary school, who did traditional dances in Music Dance and Drama (MDD)ompetitions. The duo christened themselves “Hakim and Abdul”, as their stage name.

They wanted to a break through and earned it during inter-school dance competition at St Mary’s College Kisubi (Smack). There were still students at Kibuli Secondary School. There were a few external dance scouts too.

“After a while, we were invited by Michael Kasaija who had seen us somewhere because we used to move around a lot in school clubs performing. He had a dance production at National Theatre. We had seen Michael do his thing with Combat Dancers. We had to wait for him and his crew for about four hours. We decided to leave. After a year, he called us. We went back and did the auditions and joined Combat Dancers,” Muyingo recounts.

When the duo joined university, they met Sylvester and Abramz at Sabrina’s Pub. They also joined Break Dance Project- Uganda which also had Antonio (Bukar Sebuuma) who was yet to join Hot Steps dance project on NTV Uganda. The dance project has a social cause of bringing together youths from Kampala suburbs to dance and positively use their energies.

And when the group came together, it was for more than dance. “When you have the people together, you start sharing stories. You realise this is an institution where you are learning,” the dancer adds.

And to talk about hip hop music, which is related to break dance, Muyingo prefers to talk about hip hop as a culture, which is about communities getting together.

“The work we have been doing for the past eight years is the work of the government. We have centres where young people can access everything they need for their arts. This is the power of dance,” he adds.

Jonas Byaruhanga

He is one of the faces whose names have become synonymous with dance in Uganda. Jonas Byaruhanga is director of Keiga Dance Company and Dance Transmissions Festival, an annual international dance platform.

As a boy, around six years old, Byaruhanga started taking lessons in traditional dances. In 2003, he joined Footsteps Dance Company, which was ran by Julius Lugaaya. It was from there that Alliance Francaise Kampala recognised him.

“I was offered a foundation course in African contemporary dance in Senegal in 2005. Since then, I have been working a lot across disciplines, all over the world. I have worked and performed in at least up to 36 countries spread over the past 12 years and I bring all these influences. With this art, my body can be able to express as a language,” Byaruhanga explains.

He says more young people are interested in dance. They enjoy hip hop and break dance and this is because of television and the movies on the market nowadays about break dance, hip hop and contemporary dance.

“Years ago, some Ugandans picked interest in Latin dances as well and there is demand for Latin dance teachers at the moment because Ugandans are getting to embrace. There is also our own traditional dances,” he observes.

The passion aside, Byaruhanga says dance put bread on his table through performances locally, though notes that tours in the West are more commercially rewarding. The most he has earned in Uganda was for a gig for a corporate company that paid his company Shs10m while tours will fetch him as much as Shs30m.

Keiga comprises 12 people –eight dancers and four musicians- all male. “I select dancers from my open classes but I have not met any girl who can join the company as yet.

On tour we are normally five- myself, Sam Ibanda, Rover Walter, Kenny Ssewanyana and Michael Kaddu. All these dancers have private dance companies but when it comes to Keiga, we do work together,” he adds.

Byaruhanga says there is a notable evolution in the local dance industry, pegging this on the fact that more people have embraced dance.

He adds, “For instance, in 2005, if we did a show at the National Theatre, we gave out some free tickets and called upon our friends and family. There would be about 30 people in the auditorium. Now we do not have to give out free tickets and we charge Shs10, 000. We attract about 200 people. This shows a lot of growth and development.”

Annette Nandujja- traditional dance

At the mention of traditional dance, Annette Nandujja’s name comes up because she is a good dancer when it comes to particularly Ganda dance Like Bakisiimba-Muwogola, Amagunlju, Nankasa, which call for a lot of energy.

Nandujja is a good song composer who performs with her band, The Planets that was formed in 1990. Through dance and music, she has preserved a rich culture, which earned them air tickets to tour within and outside the county, on festival circuits in Europe, Asia and United States of America.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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