Maseru, Lesotho, November 2011
The Best Laid Plans
Everything sounded beautifully planned and uniquely creative to the BDC management team when on the phone between New York and Maseru - However, none of the managers were on the tour and therefore, when things didn't turn out well in the eyes of the dancers on their arrival in Lesotho (vis a vis the outdoor stage et al) their ability to navigate and negotiate was compromised. Looking back on the situation, several ideas for avoiding such problems in the future present themselves: - one of the dancers should have been involved on the planning calls along with the director of Kick4Life to make sure all parties had a clear understanding in advance - one of the managers should have been on the tour - the teaching artists should have insisted on a three-way teleconference with New York and the Embassy as soon as they discovered the problems.
The above problem was exacerbated by the fact that communication by phone was nearly impossible and internet connectivity was also a challenge. Thus, the team on the ground was really on its own without the benefit of regular feedback and counsel from management in New York.
The team of three dancer-teaching artists felt vulnerable without the benefit of having the Company's technical director or a project manager on board. In hindsight, this type of program may be too heavy for 3 non-technically or managerially trained teaching artists to handle
While one part of the company toured western Africa, Carmen Nicole, Bafana Matea and Mira Cook headed to the nations of Lesotho and Zambia in the southern part of the continent. The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small enclave within the country of South Africa; Maseru its capital was the location for Battery Dance’s Dancing to Connect workshops. In the late 1990s Maseru was the scene of political unrest and rioting. Due to very limited facilities for the dance workshops that were envisioned, the Company, in collaboration with the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy, was forced to vamp. The Embassy identified a very willing and appropriate partner in Kick4Life, an NGO dedicated to youth empowerment through sports. K4L offered up its young charges as participants in the Dancing to Connect workshops. They also made an indoor recreation space available. Needing more spaces to accommodate the over-lapping workshops, a plan was concocted to create an outdoor dance space by placing wooden platforms on the soccer field, shielded by tenting. Unfortunately, the surface was more uneven than anticipated; and worse, the weather dealt a severe blow to the tents (intended to shield the participants from the noon-day blazing sun, but unequal to the task of standing up to blustery winds and sheets of rain.)
Forty-eight students participated in the two, four-day Dancing to Connect workshops, with teaching artists Mira and Bafana at the helm of each session with Carmen as the trouble-shooter and support person. Kick4Life interns and volunteers jumped into the process as well. While many of the DtC participants were affiliated with Kick4Life, others came from a local shelter for orphans and homeless children. The young people’s issues and concerns surrounding HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse found their way into the dance workshops. (UNICEF estimates that nearly ¼ of Lesotho population from the ages of 15 to 49 is living with HIV. 43% of Lesotho’s population lives off less than $1.25 a day.) Despite these circumstances Battery Dance found the DtC students to be resilient, optimistic and enthusiastic.
The final performance consisted of traditional Lesotho dancers, three musicians, a ballroom dance group, two DtC pieces, and two trios and three solos performed by Battery Dance artists. Ambassador Michele Bond as well as other diplomats were in attendance for the final performance along with families and Peace Corps volunteers. The Lesotho trip was a great example of BDC’s creatively partnering with another nonprofit to achieve its core mission of providing access to the arts for those who otherwise lack the opportunity. Moreover, Battery Dance learned to adapt to the given conditions and have a positive impact on the lives of the students.
Postlude: Battery Dance Company team met up with Daniela Gusman of Kick4Life in New York at the beginning of 2013 and future collaborations are envisioned