Lusaka, Zambia, 2011
We often face a serious problem of meshing needs and desires with practicalities; local conditions with safety and 'standards'. In several of the countries we visited in Africa, wooden dance floors with requisite spring (not laid directly on concrete) simply couldn't be found. Had we stuck to our idea of how things should/must be, we would have dug in our heels and our programs would have either been cancelled or severely modified, resulting in less direct impact with local youth. As it was, we got lucky and in Zambia, puzzle pieces of thick rubber matting were located (a gift from heaven) that rendered a cement floor danceable. And in another case, an ex- Minister's death caused the cancellation of a program that would otherwise have been staged on a surface ill-suited for our style of dance. Can one actually believe that things happen for a reason? ... sometimes!
Focus Where the Need is Greatest
In the unforgettable words of one of BDC's teaching artists, Robin Cantrell, 'The program is Guinea was my favorite ever'. The gratification she felt from working with the young people in Conakry, whose life conditions were seriously strained, was unparalleled. We heard similar reactions from the group in Lesotho. Whatever we can bring to these young dancers, it pales compared to what we get back in appreciation.
Despite just having three teaching artists to cover a nation the size of Texas, Battery Dance was able to pull off a two-city trip to Zambia. The journey to Zambia was part of the second leg of the 2011 African tour which also included trips to Nigeria, Lesotho, and Guinea. The group in Zambia was the trio of Carmen Smith, Mira Cook, and Bafana Mataea. Carmen flew to the town of Livingstone, on the Zimbabwe boarder to conduct her own Dancing to Connect program. Meanwhile Bafana and Mira stayed in Lusaka, the capital to conduct two DtC workshops. The DtC workshops in Lusaka each had 20 participants, ranging in age from 13-22. Some of the youth were either homeless or faced troubling domestic situations. Despite these conditions the students displayed enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn.
The Lusaka Playhouse was the venue for both the DtC workshops and final performance; it proved to be extremely well-suited for the company’s needs. Africa Directions, a local nonprofit that seeks to empower Zambia’s youth and raise AIDS awareness partnered with the U.S. Embassy to provide participants for the DtC workshops in Lusaka.
Carmen was confronted with several challenges in Livingstone, including time constraints and the unkept condition of Capitol Theater’s interior. However, with the help of Daisy Nalishuwa of the Livingstone Performing Arts Foundation (LiPAF) and Chando Mapoma of the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Carmen was able to coordinate and conduct a DtC workshop with 10 students, ages 19-30. In the end Capitol Theatre’s gorgeous exterior and majestic location on Victoria Falls proved to be a sufficient venue. Over one hundred and fifty people filled the theater in Livingstone to watch the DtC dance and Carmen perform two solos.
For the final performance in Lusaka, Carmen rejoined Bafana and Mira. The Lusaka Playhouse was packed with over 500 guests including U.S. Ambassador Mark Storella and local Zambian government officials. The students performed two DtC works; and the 3 BDC dancers presented 1 trio, 1 duet, and 3 solos. Barefoot, a local nonprofit dance group participated in the final performance as well. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the Zambia trip was the cultural interaction and discussions that occurred between the Battery Dance teaching artists and the DtC participants. While at first reluctant to engage in deep conversation, the students slowly began to open up and asked questions regarding contemporary American politics and culture. HIV/AIDS was also a salient subject in the dialogue. Despite recent progress in Zambia against HIV/AIDs, UNICEF says 13.5% of the adult population ages 15-49 is infected with the virus. The trust and friendships built through the Dancing to Connect Workshops and performances, not just with the participants but with the audience as well, is the underlining mission of Battery Dance.