In 2012, Dancing to Connect performed and taught in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
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Tragedy struck the day prior to the Dancing to Connect performance with the terrorist attack on the U.S. Mission to Benghazi, which claimed the lives of Ambassador Scott Stevens and two other embassy officers. After Embassy Dar es Salaam assessed the local security situation and briefed the Company, BDC and the Embassy decided against cancelling the following day’s performance, although Ambassador Lenhardt’s attendance was perceived as too high a risk. Learning about these events and understanding how they relate to your program are essential to understanding whether project plans need to be changed or not.
Utilize The Materials Available in The Country
Among the difficulties faced in Tanzania was determining an adequate backdrop for the performance. In lieu of a scrim of cyclorama, Cultural Affairs Assistant Suleiman came up with the creative idea of utilizing unused Embassy bed–linens which were clipped together by Barry to form the backdrop for video projections and lighting. It is important to not loose a creative opportunity.
Battery Dance Company (BDC) embarked on its second visit to Tanzania on September 6th 2012, with programs organized in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam. Funding for the program was provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the U.S. Embassy. The 10-day tour was characterized by a two-pronged approach with a high visibility marquee performance coupled with outreach programs targeting undeserved youth.
The day after arriving in Dar es Salaam, the Company had a rest day which they used to visit local marketplace KariaKoo and to explore other areas of Dar Es Salaam. The Company found the Tanzanian people to be very open and welcoming and had the opportunity to interact with a group of Maasai, although communication was difficult.
The following day began with a press conference followed by site visits at the workshop venues and theater. During a visit to NGO Baba Watoto Center, the students acrobatically welcomed BDC with a short performance, while at the Tanzania House of Talent, the Company was treated to a short musical number by two gifted singers.
The workshops at Baba Watoto were in such high demand that a fifth workshop group was added to the four originally planned. Quite incredibly, Suleiman (Tanzanian Cultural Affairs Assistant) was able to secure a 5th workshop venue at the Russian Cultural Center (in Tanzania) in time for the first day of workshops. U.S. Ambassador Alfonso Lenhardt kindly made time for a courtesy call, prior to the beginning of the first workshop day, and briefed the Company on the Embassy‘s efforts to promote youth education and employment as well as his shared NY heritage. During the visit to Tanzania, Deputy Director of Battery Dance also led evaluation workshops with 8 THT employees and with two volunteers from Baba Watoto. Meanwhile, Production Director Barry Steele held two workshops with 30 participants from THT and Cloud FM, providing training in the principles of lighting and design. Bibbies on Choice FM, Tanzania’s most popular morning show, also aired a 6-minute interview with Salem about Battery Dance Companies work in the country.
Unfortunately, protests targeting U.S. Embassies erupted on September 11 across the Muslim world, seemingly in reaction to an anti-Islamic film produced in the United States. Despite fears of the violence and anger spreading to Dar es Salaam, Battery Dance Company’s members continued to feel welcomed by the warm and friendly Tanzanian people. Not once did any member of the company experience any ill-will or negativity.
After stage rehearsals and prior to the final performance at The National Museum and House of Culture, participants from Baba Watoto and the International School of Tanganyika danced, laughed and taught each other new choreographic moves on the lawn at the theater, exemplifying one of the main goals of the program: uniting youth from different backgrounds and communities. Suleiman also provided her own personal video camera, allowing the performance to be recorded. While T-shirts and track suits were provided to Baba Watoto and THT students, many of whom had worn the same clothing for each day of the workshops. Lunch was provided for all students on the day of performance.
With opening remarks from U.S. Embassy PAO Dana Banks and the deputy director of BDC, the final show began to a full capacity audience of approximately 475 who responded with rapturous applause and gasps of amazement. The awe of audience members at seeing the acrobatic movements that Baba Watoto participants integrated into their choreography was palpable. Many audience members were being exposed to the local domestic talent for the first time, making the socially mixed final performance all the more meaningful. It was also notable to see members of different social classes mingling, sharing and laughing together at the intermission. The final performance ended with a standing ovation from the entire theater --- the perfect finale to a very emotional program.
Overall, the performance and workshops met with outstanding response. Choreography that the students created during the program was reprized when First Lady Michelle Obama visited Tanzania on July 1, 2013.