Our program in Uganda was organized late in the game, and participants’ schedules did not conform to our needs for a full-fledged program. Likewise, logistical conditions were very rough (cement and dirt floors instead of wood, etc.) However, we chose to push through and to do the best we could under the circumstances. In retrospect, we’re happy we did. The interactions we had were very touching and obviously valuable. Adaptability was key.
In early February 2010 two members of Battery Dance Company, Robin Cantrell and Sean Scantlebury set out to do what could very well have been impossible: Travel for one month through Africa, teaching master classes almost daily, and putting together multiple Dancing to Connect programs, each in only the span of one or two days. In the past, these workshops have been full-week programs. Without the aid of a technical director or even an artistic director, the BDC members were taking on a hefty set of responsibilities. The outcome was ultimately far superior to anything they might have hoped for. Dance pieces came together seamlessly, performances ran smoothly, audiences were amazed, and a few lives were changed including those of the teaching artists!
The program in Kampala, BDC’s first exposure to Uganda, began with a reception given in their honor by the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the US Embassy. They were introduced to a host of people, most of whom were involved with the upcoming dance week festival. The dancers they met seemed highly motivated to develop contemporary dance skills, even though they indicated that the society at large wasn’t particularly entranced by the idea. Sean and Robin encountered a number of young dancers who seemed very interested in dance video and expanding their filming and editing skills. Day one of teaching took place at the National Theater where the session began with a master class followed by a creative workshop with the goal of creating an original piece of choreography for 20 performers who represented a number of different national companies. It was the first time we had ever worked on this project with dancers who had never met one another (and in some cases, didn't even speak the same language). Everyone worked surprisingly well together, although it was clear that the dancers had vastly different types of dance training; everything from break dancing to Limon style modern. Nonetheless, everyone was very receptive, cooperative and things went smoothly.
In the evening, the dancers were invited to a Latin dance performance at the theater as prelude to the coming festival. After that, they were rushed to a dressing area and told to prepare to perform outside, on the cement, without warming up, for a huge crowd! At this point in the tour the dancers had been exposed to just about everything, and were relatively unfazed by this whirlwind set of directions. Sean and Robin performed a duet as a way to open the evening's Dance Jam. Their efforts were met with a very warm response from the audience, who proceeded to salsa across the cement in their wake.
The next day Robin taught a creative movement class to children at the In-Movement Dance Studio in Kansanga. This was a lovely recreation center that had been set up by Susan Bamutenda (who, sadly, passed away soon after) in order to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds, many orphans, an outlet for creativity. They arrived in their school uniforms, and were provided with dance clothes. Makerere University was the next stop, where they taught a 3 hour workshop. In order to give the participants more space to move (apparently the dance rooms at the university are in sad shape), the workshop was held in a lecture hall. By now, they were used to the red dirt that covers everything, and the power going out at the most inopportune times. Students here were keen to learn and had lots of questions about technique, strength and flexibility.
After working with the Dancing to Connect participants for a second day, the dancers focused on rehearsing their own pieces for the opening night of the festival. The two of them would be performing two different pieces. The festival kicked off that evening with Robin and Sean watching as much as they could from back stage and were impressed with the amount of modern dance that the Ugandan dancers had picked up through previous visits by American and European dance teachers. The creativity was certainly abundant but the technical ability to back up the visions was not consistent.
The final day of teaching took the dancers to separate venues. Robin taught two guest ballet classes at the Kampala Ballet and Modern Dance School. The dancers here were very young and only have the option to take one 60-minute dance class per week. Hopefully the tiny dancers gained something from this peek into the world of American ballet. Sean led a hip hop class with the Tabuflo Dance Crew. Sean and Robin left the rehearsal unsure of how the evening would unfold. They headed back to the National Theater to catch night two of the festival, this time from the audience. The audience loved the Dancing to Connect performance despite the very short rehearsal time.