My childhood nickname ‘Fats’ was a very literal one – I was a little above the normal weight of a 9 year old. That name in most circles is more popular than my birth name and has stuck with me ever since. My brother had me enrolled in Chipawo, which meant I grew up under the influence of the great Stephen Chifunyise and Dr McLaren. My love for stories is derived from those two great men, unfortunately, I could not make the cut as a playwright and I answered the call to dance, specifically choreography. However, such is the influence for those two great men that I tell stories through dance, and that is my signature for any piece that I create. I have been fortunate to lead a young team of performers with our dance factory: Tamba Africa Ensemble, which has allowed me to grow as an artist. The highlight of 2015 was the Makuwerere masterpiece that we created for the launch of FastJet. However, the biggest challenge to date has been choreographing a piece for a team of models, who were all non-dancers and I have chosen to share a few things from that experience this week.
I have come across a lot of different types and shapes of bodies, either teaching or choreographing. I have to confess, initially, I used to think some of them were hopeless just by looking at their body and how they carried themselves – it really used to put me off. In retrospect, it was a rookie mistake that choreographers should avoid; it’s true – never judge a book by its cover. And even if they cannot dance to save their lives, there are ways around this challenge that I will explain herein. I am no miracle worker, however as long as the non-dancers have an abundance of passion, we can come up with a killer performance – guaranteed! My philosophy is - if you have legs, you can dance, and it is the first lesson I teach to my students, and anyone working with me for the first time.
Rhythm and coordination present the biggest challenge for non-dancers, and a way that worked with my group of models was playing music (the universal language that everybody understands). This allowed me to know exactly what I was dealing with i.e. two left feet or moderately good. I walked around the room whilst the song was playing, which ensured I could denote strengths and weaknesses, from which I could build or create my choreography. What I learnt quickly on set was that I should concentrate more on their strengths as opposed to critiquing their weaknesses. Especially so, because there was limited time in which to prepare them for the pageant. So for those with limited feet movement but more agility in the upper body, I gave them parts in accordance with their strengths.
The choreography itself was void of too many steps as it would have confused the cast I was working with for the production. What I did instead, and I think any decent choreographer would agree with me, was increase changes in formation, utilising stops, implement pauses in a creative way that did not bore the audience but allowed the cast to recover (as some of them did not have a dancer’s endurance). I relied on formation to beautify the choreography, and added a bit of acting in order to blend characters with the movements. As someone who loves stories, the result of this is making the story explicit for both the models as well as the audience – which made it fun for everyone involved. I took the approach we take in our teaching programme AfroFeet, and named each movement in the choreography to help the models remember (picture coach Carter, the movie). The names were humourous for instance “Dr Amai”. Even on the day of the performance, whenever I saw someone was forgetting their steps, I shouted Dr Amai and that was their cue.
Nothing can stop one to be a star in what you believe in.
“If you have the body, you can dance and shine on stage.”
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