• 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.
• 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
In October 2010, as part of a five-country series of workshops in Central and East Africa, Dancing to Connect performed and taught in Nairobi. Here is an excerpt from a letter from one of the students:
"After my fathers death my life has never been the same again. I was confused and didn’t know what to do. That is when I started dancing…so I could forget what happened. Ever since I was a kid, my wish was to become the best dancer the world has ever seen. I know I have a hope of dancing thanks to this project. Thanks.
In the beginning, I was afraid that I didn’t have the training to be able to do the workshop but with the learning that I have achieved, I know that everything can be used as inspiration in dance.
When we danced to show a secret, it showed me how to communicate without having to say a word. The music I have heard is different and I have learnt that different is good. Different is fine.
I have learnt that learning is an experience it itself."
BDC’s program in Kenya was a whirlwind experience that left indelible impressions. Over 4 days, two Dancing to Connect workshops took place and culminated in finished works of choreography that were performed at the US Ambassador’s residence in Nairobi. Working with Cultural Affairs Office (CAO) and Cultural Affairs Specialist (CAS) was an utter joy. Smart, culturally sophisticated and socially committed, these two made us feel very well supported throughout our stay.
Carmen worked with Wini Nkinda (as far as know Wini has since moved out of country and pursuing other ventures), a local dance leader and her fledgling group called Bone Marrow. There were 15 dancers in this group ranging in age from 17 – 28, with a mix of men and women. Some of the participants had worked with Wini in the past; others joined for the first time, drawn by the opportunity to engage with an American teaching artist. The talent of the dancers in this group was exceptional – passionate, engaged, intense and willing to take risks. Carmen and Wini made perfect counterparts and the results of their work left both Ellen and Jonathan in tears when they attended the 3rd day rehearsal at The Go Down. In a survey of dancers taken at the end of workshops, 30 out of 30 indicated that they would participate again if given a chance, and 29 rated their teaching artists “Excellent”.
Oliver and Bafana’s group was made up of members of the Gomad Group from the University of Nairobi and others including a freelance dancer/actress who traveled from Mombasa. This young woman, when interviewed, said that she has been called upon to choreograph and lead dance workshops but had never had the opportunity to study in any formalized way nor to be guided by a professional choreographer. As in Carmen’s group, the team was diverse in terms of socio-economic bracket, education, with more men than women. They rehearsed at the music conservatory in a very well appointed dance studio with wooden floors, mirrors and good ventilation. Ken had managed to obtain marley dance flooring for both the Go Down and the Conservatoire, because neither surface was in good enough condition for barefoot dancing. The Director of the Conservatoire was fascinated with the flooring material and secured information about sourcing and pricing for a future upgrade. Unfortunately, the final performance had to be a by-invitation-only event at the Ambassador’s residence because no suitable theater was available. Nonetheless, every effort was made to reach out to a diverse audience and to prepare a good stage for the show. Everyone pitched in to help create an amphitheater out of the sloping back yard of the residence with Maureen in gracious but firm command. The jacaranda blossoms dropping constantly onto the stage during the performance, the backwards slope of the stage, the vicious thorns on an overhanging tree: none of these challenges were too great to overcome, and a capacity audience were roused enough to dance on stage after the formal presentation, accompanied by a local singer and her band (and joined by U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger!).
"A number of young people in Nairobi have been changed forever"