Reinventing Dance And Dance Artistes Post-COVID

May 14, 2021
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As the world marked the International Dance Day yesterday which was joined by the Guild of Nigerian Dancers (GOND) and dance organisations across the country with various events off and online, LEADERSHIP Friday looks at the state of the dance industry in Nigeria and the ways the sector can be reinvented post-COVID era.

In his message commemorating the International World Dance Day, international, multi award-winning ballet and interpretative dancer, Friedemann Vogel said, ‘‘Never in recent history has the dance community been so collectively challenged to stay motivated, to find its raison d’etre, when all of a sudden, dancers are not allowed to perform anymore, theatre doors are closed, festivals are cancelled and their world comes to a standstill.

If only he knew the extent of that challenge to stay motivated suffered by the Nigerian dance community.

First, Nigerian dancers never had theatre spaces to perform at, and with the exception of music videos, a few traditional acts at political events, never had much screen time or festival presence.

Thus, when the pandemic hit, and a total lockdown saw the closure of the few performing spaces and recreation centres where dancers perform, the consequences were devastating.

While a handful of dance organisations such as Footprints of David (FOD) Arts Festival, the Peoples Centre’s Dance gathering, and Bariga Festival went virtual and carried on somewhat their annual events and monthly activities, these organisations were largely Lagos-based. State-based dancers fared less well. They rather focused on dissemination of previous and experimental contents. This lasted close to seven or nine months. Worse hit, however, were the behind-the-scenes’ artistes who supply the music and the beats dancers move to – the drummers.

With no dancers and audience to perform for, traditional drummers were reduced to penury. Chair, Guild of Nigerian Theatre Arts Drummers (GOTHAD), Isioma Williams articulated the pathetic situation of drummers, even as they marked International Drummers Day on April 4 which coincided with the death of the legendary travel theatre-maker, actor and drummer, Hebert Ogunde.

‘‘Dancers were going online to perform for their fans and followers. It was terrible for drummers. Lots of my colleagues were begging for cash for sustenance. I was lucky I had understanding colleagues abroad who supported me, for which I used to support my colleagues in Lagos.’’

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Contrary to countries such as Senegal, Germany, UK and France where the government provided endowment and supportive funds for their creative industry, their Nigerian counterparts had never benefitted from government support sinc. Trails blazed by Nigerian dancers, globally and continentally just as Nollywood were all self-achieved. Hence, when the government made some moves to support creatives during the lockdown, they responded without much enthusiasm.

As expected, the funding went the way such things do. For starters, parent creative associations were sidelined in favour of a celebrity-dominated committee to represent the interests of the industry.

Attempts to find creatives (dancers and drummers) who benefitted from the funding seemed fruitless. Williams noted that although his association through its parent body NANTAP participated in the research to access the funding, it is yet to receive any.

‘‘I heard here and there that some people got funds. Government knows we have an association but once they want to take action, they call on individuals and celebrities, and then things don’t get to the people that deserve it,’’ Williams said.

Ibadan-based dancer and founder of Olaijo Arts World initially believed the fund scheme was a scam. ‘‘I was told some truly received funds before it turned to a scam later on, and even most that applied did not get the funds.’’

‘‘I filled the form (for the fund) tire; and got the people in my association to do so. Nothing happened,’’ said GOND national president, Victor Thompson.

Not one to wait for the authorities, Thompson took to the streets and the locals in his Akwa Ibom State to host the Uyo International Film Festival and the Uyo Carnival in 2020.

‘‘I don’t wait for support from a government that has suspended consecutively the colourful Abuja carnival. We can’t wait for the festival until we lose weight. Hold festivals in your street, your area, and not wait for the government,’’ he said.

In favour of Vogel’s call to dancers to ‘‘to reinvent ourselves to keep dancing, and to keep inspiring’’, Thompson urged dancers to reinvent themselves beyond migrating to online performances to taking dancers and dancing to the screen; expansive use of found spaces and partnerships with corporate organizations.

‘‘Dance is the worst hit in the creative sector, because dance is the direct product of culture, people seem to take for granted. People find it hard to pay N5m to watch a dance performance.

‘’We need to borrow a leaf from the success story of Nollywood and take our dances to the screen. Our major problem is mobilising audience. Nollywood is booming because it has mobilised audience. People watch movies to see a particular actor on screen. How many Nigerian dancers are known throughout Nigeria, with the exception of Kaffy? But how many Kaffys do we have? Let’s take the dance to the screen and mobilise an audience. Let’s raise more Kaffys and Segun Adefilas.

‘’This International Dance Day, let us keep dance alive and see dance as a healing remedy rather than just entertainment. Each movement of dance we make is an invitation that we are alive. If we keep dancing, irrespective of what’s going on – we will feel alive and call attention to the practice and ideal of dance, both as a profession but a prolific profession capable of putting food on our table.’’

For Williams, the pandemic brought home a lesson for artistes to find alternative means to lifting themselves against such futuristic hazards.

‘‘We need to look inwards. We need to put some things on ground ourselves; make contributions for our well-being. It means putting money aside to invest in other businesses or things – as a guild. I hope my colleagues understand that now,’’ Williams said.

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