In 2012, Dancing to Connect performed and taught in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Keep Abreast of Current News
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.
Malaria medication (Malarone) is available in African pharmacies at a fraction of the cost in America. Purchase only enough for the starter dose in the U.S. and purchase the remainder on tour.
The Power of Dance
Dance is a powerful vehicle of bonding across social and cultural borders in Africa.
American artists are treated with respect, fascination and open-hearted hospitality
Security issues are important to understand in each country. Walking down the street in garments that might be considered disrespectful can spell trouble. When in doubt, get a security briefing from the Embassy and cover up.
Internet connectivity is inconsistent; and so is access to reliable ATM’s
Many theaters in Africa are not equipped with Western-standard lighting instruments and technical crews are often hard-pressed to support a full dance plot. Be ready to adapt and bring a resourceful production director with you.
Think ahead about ways in which you can follow-up, once your program is complete. The thirst for high quality dance instruction and performances is greater than a short visit can quench.
Bring plastic hangers, Woolite, Febreze and white tissue paper (to deal with damp costumes when you are on the run)
Budget for excess baggage. Airlines baggage policies are not dance company-friendly.
Engage the community in any/every way possible. Use all of your communication and teaching skills and think broadly and creatively about outreach. Our strongest suit was our Dancing to Connect program that brought us up close and fully teamed up with our African counterparts, and the fact that our final performances were shared with locals –our students and professionals.
Determine which countries require visas to be obtained before leaving the U.S. and which can be left until arrival at the airport. Create a timeline for the visa application process. As we found out, the more countries you visit on a tour, the more complex the procedure becomes
After resting for a day in Dar es Salaam, the BDC team of 4 headed up to Bagamoyo. The program was situated there because no suitable theater could be found in Dar and the TaSUBa Institute was keen to host the Dancing to Connect workshops. The three teaching artists split up into two groups with participants from Baba Watoto Center from Children and Youth in one group, and Bagamoyo Institute for the Arts and Cultural Studies (TASUBA) in the other. The first group's teaching artist reported that their participants were “outstanding in their fearless exchange of movement and ideas on our very first day of the program. The large class introduced themselves, showed some of their own moves, then quickly got down to the business of learning to dance and communicate in a new way. This picture was taken at the end of a full day and everyone was on a natural high from the experience. Later, they would present their own work in a performance for us which was overwhelming in energy and musicality.”
The second group's teaching artist's experience was quite different. He was challenged by absenteeism, lethargy and an absence of focus. Despite this, his group completed their choreography and by all accounts, had a fantastic performance on the beautiful stage at TaSUBa. The audience was sparse but the reaction was loud and heartfelt. “We all left Bagamoyo the next day missing our new friends and counterparts in dance and hoping to see them again in the future.”
The key Embassy official in charge of the entire program, wrote, “Judging by the look in the eyes of the young Tanzanian participants throughout the clinics and final performance, the BDC troupe impacted their lives and provided them with long lasting inspiration to persevere in dance and develop the talent of other Tanzanian youth. The Baba wa Watoto Parapanda Theater Lab Trust (BwT) and Bagamoyo Institute of the Arts and Cultural Studies (TASUBA) executive directors echoed those observations with added praise.
The Executive Director of the Parapanda and Baba wa Watoto Center's students participated in the NY Battery Dance Company's program last week. During a discussion following the performance, he requested for the BDC to return to Tanzania next year if possible. BwT would like to have a new stage built this year to host the company at BwT in Dar es Salaam and attract wider audiences. He is currently seeking private sector support for that goal.
The key quote from the letter of appreciation to the U.S. Embassy from the Executive Director of the Parapanda and Baba wa Watoto Center is the following: "The embassy has once again given hope to the voiceless communities through wonderful visit at the embassy home and the twinship work with the Battery Dancers. As we talked to the youth, such five days, means a lot to their lives and their families (and) helped to dignify the work we do in the communities where more than 80% are Swahili cultures people, mostly Muslims. "