A lot of my life before, during, and after our trip to Nairobi has been a whirlwind: before the trip, the Red Lion Inn (where I work) was very busy and rather understaffed, even in November when there’s usually a lull between the leaf peeping rush and the holiday rush. This meant I was working five to six days a week, often twelve hours a day, leaving very little time to mentally or physically prepare for the January trip to Kenya. Once we arrived in Nairobi, we scheduled almost all of our available time, with every weekday and weekend devoted to teaching, visiting this school or that studio, working on that project. After getting back from Nairobi, I had a mere two weeks to entirely plan and pack for my four month trek throughout Europe, from whence I am writing to you now.
But when we arrived in Nairobi, I was reminded that for the dance artists, children, administrators, and all other people we work with, theirs lives are not all a whirlwind. Granted they are very busy, but they’re not whizzing from one activity to the next with no time to breathe. Throughout the past year, they have been focusing and working hard on tap dance, and it shows.
The children at Shangilia have been having regular classes twice a week with Alexus, one of our students at the GoDown, sometimes with assistance from Kennie and Stacey (also students from the GoDown). The kids showed us the routine they’ve been working on and I was blown away by the extensive and complex dance they have under their belts. For us, it’s an effort to perfect a fairly simple four-phrase dance, and Stefanie has been teaching it over the course of a few years. But we only come for a few weeks a year and then we disappear. The fact that these kids are putting on their shoes twice a week, with structure and direction from an adult, has made a world of difference.
In addition to the kids, the adults are improving as well. A few of our dancers have formed a group called Tapa Tapa Africa, and they rehearse often. We hung out with them as a group at Bruce’s apartment (one of the members), where they showed us videos of some performances and told us about their creative process. (Stay tuned for Stefanie’s DanceMakers podcast interview of them from this.) They emphasized how they didn’t want to perform at all if they weren’t going to do it well, so they’ve been practicing really hard to prepare for gigs. They talked about how much they love tap dance as a creative and expressive medium, and how much they want to keep doing it. They made me feel so proud of and excited for them: these people are the future of tap dance in Kenya, and they take that responsibility very seriously.
All of our dancers, not just members of Tapa Tapa Africa, are improving vastly. In rehearsals at GoDown, we were able to teach them steps that they never could’ve done last year. Their dexterity with their feet, their ability to hear the difference between swing and square, the number of steps they know–it’s all miles ahead. And they work so well with each other: the people who pick up a step easily will patiently teach it to someone who hasn’t gotten it yet. This all makes my job a lot easier: I can give my entire attention to one person who’s struggling, while other people are being helped by their classmates.
This is all to say that even though my life might be speeding by before my eyes, theirs is progressing at a different pace. It’s obvious, but it’s easy for me to forget that their lives continue when we aren’t there. They work on their art, they work on their craft, they work on making a living. And the things they accomplish add up to more than I think I’ve ever done. Our residency this past January may have been chaotic, but a few times I was able to pause, breathe, and take in the beautiful things that were being created.