Where are we?

Our schedule is often a topic of inquiry while we are here in Nairobi. To help give people a picture of how our time weighs out, I will do a very general outline and description of our schedule.

In the mornings on weekdays and some Saturdays we go to the GoDown Arts Centre to work with a group of professional and pre-professional dancers. We have been working out of the GoDown since 2013. Each year it is a little different. The first time we had open workshops, taught some private lessons, did some interviews and got familiar with the artists and the space. The second year we pulled together a performing group and created a production that we staged at the National Theater entitled Nafasi Ya Kusafirishi Mda (The Space To Transport Time) with an experiment in Tap dance called KuTap Pamoja. Last year, the GoDown donated the space to us for our investment in the Nairobi dance community: a formal training for dancers interested in gaining more skill in basic Rhythm Tap Dance technique for teaching. This was a very organized series of Tap sessions that included film, choreography, history, technique and improvisation. We awarded 18 dancers with certificates. This year continues the evolution of our time at GoDown and we are the guests of the Choreographic Conversations group. This group started while we were here last January and consists of a handful of Nairobi-based dance artists who are looking to increase their visibility, explore their artistry, garner more local support and make new work. They sometimes invite guest choreographers to come and share their dance-making techniques, create a piece and add to the conversation. For the month of January in 2016, I am the guest artist. We show up in the morning, exchange greetings, warm-up, have technique class and then work on choreography. We are aiming to produce a show next week at the National Theater with a new original Tap dance piece inspired by the process of passing proverbs entitled Misemo (Sayings). 
Misemo_Edit_FINAL_ wLogos

In the afternoons on weekdays we head over to Shangilia to continue our work with the kids there. My first time working with them was in December of 2012 when they were still housed in their original cramped space in the informal settlement of Kangemi. At that time, the building they are in now in Kibagare valley was in its beginning stages and they were still dealing with the squatters. Now they have a beautiful wood-floor stage, spacious dorm rooms and classrooms, a massive garden with greenhouses, chickens and rabbits and they farm tilapia. They also have the largest skateboard park in all of Kenya donated by SkateAid. They have various skateboarders come from different parts of the globe to stay and skate with the kids. The place has really grown and it will be blossoming again into a thriving performing arts hub in the near years under the direction of their new deputy director of performing arts Catherine “Liz” Enane. This is our first year working on the new stage and it is really great. We are working on more Condos Rudiments and cleaning up the Shim Sham and some Levaughn Robinson steps and Coles Stroll steps as well. They are working with some of the dancers from our training at GoDown (Alexus, Stacey and Kenanie) and this is really keeping them in the dance all year round. Our “problem” now is that there are many levels in the class, rather than just one or two. We have more tap dancers there and more are being made as we speak because the kids just keep teaching each other and the little ones stand around and watch. This is a far cry from me jumping on their rickety stage floor in 2012 and making them all giggle with curiosity over my funny shoes. Another development is that Monika is teaching photography with some of the kids this year. It is fun to explain to the dancers that their peers are taking pictures of them just like Monika always does and that this is a different kind of photographing than stopping to pose for the camera. I can see their gears turning as they think about what that means. Then we carry on the class as usual while the kids practice taking pictures. More to say, but onward I must go to the next group.

IMG_1938

On the weekends our standard has been going to the ACREF center (African Cultural Research and Education Foundation) to work with the Banjuka Project dancers. ACREF is located in the Baba Dogo parish of the Kariodudu estate. I first went there in January of 2012 through a former constituent of ACREF and musician Ramadham Obiero and met dancers Jackson Atulo and Simon Gathara in addition to others who were just starting the Banjuka program which includes music and dance education as well as physical therapy and other educational programs, counseling, performances and debates. I showed them some very basic Tap Dance steps and started a relationship that has turned into a very nice friendship between dancers, dance educators and performers. Now we go and work with their well established group of very young dancers teaching them Tap. This year, the kids have chosen to teach us a traditional dance of the Luo tribe called Kalapapla, which is a celebration dance. We also will be giving Banjuka 40 hand-sewn, Kenyan-made, menstrual kits from Days For Girls (see Josephine’s post about this) to the girls in our dance program and all the girls that ACREF serves on a regular basis that are in need. We are doing this in dialogue with the counselor at ACREF.

On some Saturdays and Sundays before or after ACREF we may go to GoDown for another rehearsal, or drop-in at another location. We may have to take care of other details like copies, batteries, water… or meet up with another contact to iron out details or take photos, have dinner or tea with a comrade, or go to a  relevant cultural event. We may take a walk in Karura Forest or go grocery shopping. Evenings are commonly spent catching up on details of the day, reading, writing, and prepping for the next day.

IMG_1939

This year we will be leaving the city for a few days to do some work outside the urban environment of Nairobi by taking two days in Nyeri introducing Mt. Kenya Academy students to Tap Dance with a demonstration for the school and rotational workshops for all classes. We have been invited by Emanuel Ashene who is a musician we did a jam session with in Nairobi last year. We also have been invited to do a workshop along with Creative Connekt at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre and orphanage in Nyeri. In between we are trying to steal a few hours to take a peek into the Aberderes National Park.

The moments between all of this are usually spent in traffic.

Tap Root Talk (Part 1)

What is at the core of a movement? I like to start with space. Whether the movement is of the body with bones, and connective tissue and all the intricate mechanics of our biology as humans or if it is a movement that comes from a collective that initiates a change in culture or society. That latter kind of movement also involves individual values, dialogues between often passionate parties, and a dedication to a process. There are so many systems that must be acting out or put in place in order to make any kind of movement. “Space is the hidden catalyst of all movement and change,” states Jaimen McMillan, the founder and director of the Spacial Dynamics Institute. Because as humans we often focus on what is seen and heard, space is often not even considered. We see this lack of consideration everywhere: building design, cultural institution leadership, urban planning, political party organization, economics, social identities, dance class, peer groups…and so on. Space is probably the one thing we are effected by the most and have the least amount awareness of.

Now let’s talk Tap. In its most basic understanding, Tap Dance is an art form that moves the body to make sound. This is done while wearing a very specific kind of shoes and while employing a very specific kind of technique that derives from a specific amalgamation of sectors, cultures, ethnicities, struggles and stylists. Of course the story doesn’t end there. The story is never-ending. Any storyteller who professes to know the whole story is lying, in denial or sadly misled. There is no rhythm, and therefore no story, without the spaces between. Something I teach and try to remember: knowledge is power and knowledge is limited (there is always more to be had) so use your power wisely.

Tap Dance exists in so many ways for so many people. It spans a geographic space that is planetary, yet, also thrives in areas of virtual isolation. It engages a mental space that is a complex swirl of firing synapses linking many areas of the brain to one another. It can monopolize on an emotional space by temporarily uplifting a severely darkened spirit or literally bringing a dancer to her knees. It’s a shiny impression made under the bright lights of elite stages, festivals, and trending television shows that dress it in competition. It also transforms the dusty streets of a bustling slum into an intimate gathering of joyful and curious participants and watchers. Tap Dance belongs to no one. If it did we couldn’t call it an art form. We would have to call it something else.

 

 

 

 

Spoken Through The Filter Of Foot

If my foot could say what should be said here in this introductory blog post it would be simply dipping its toe tap onto the dancing surface to test the waters of the wood. Even though these are words, the action for me is quite the same. We are always trying small shifts in the way we carry the weight of the work we do here individually and collectively. Small moves in one direction and then maybe back again, and maybe further out, maybe another way altogether. It’s hard to tell. We take risks here. They are sometimes similar to tossing seeds to an open field and coming back later to see what has grown. Sometimes it is a careful watering. Sometimes it works. Most times it is really hard to tell what’s happening. This blog will hopefully help us to process and to communicate that process to those interested in reading along with us. We cannot include every thing that happens, there is just too much. You know that already though.

We write to you, our supporters, friends, families, collaborators, partners, fellow dancers, artists, and world citizens. We write to ourselves, the parts we know and the parts that don’t really exist yet.

The objective is for this to be a collective blog that has numerous authors- foremost Monika, Josephine and myself. Go ahead and comment if you like, we’ll leave that option up to start and see how it goes. We will all have our own ways of saying what we want to say. Thank you for moving your eyes along these lines and sharing the page/screen with us, for listening, and for being open. Thank you for being with us when we touch bottom and when we rise. The words filtered through our footsteps on this journey can be slippery. Thank you for helping us up if we fall.

I’ll start first with a short piece and photo I posted on my personal Facebook page the night we landed in Nairobi for THEY DANCE FOR RAIN’s 5th residency in this wild and wonderful city. It doesn’t have much to do with the work, but it brings you into our world just a little bit.

January 8th, 2016

“My name is Doreen Achieng Odipo and I am from Kisumu and I am here in Nairobi and now you are my friend.” The words snuck out of her mouth like a long kept secret. She walked them out the door with her to check on the sheets drying up on the roof. She moved out of the room much like this welcoming and light breeze that gently mixes the contrasting scents of our arrival. This first dusk back in Nairobi smells of the much needed washing of our weary and anticipating bodies, too many chemical cleaning agents in the apartment, and an array of savory spices cooking in the neighboring flats. Then she said, “I like that you are happy.” I chuckled at this while she grinned. Happy might mean something different to Doreen than it does to me. But it did get me wondering if maybe I am.
IMG_1835
The door to our apartment. Photo by S.Weber

 

From here on out expect to see outstanding artistic photographic documentation from Monika, and be inspired by Josephine’s developing confidence and willingness to jump into the middle of a mystery and shine. And me, I’ll keep the dancing machine well-greased and do my best to put my words down here like I put my feet to the floor…with curiosity and grace.
Be well
-Stefanie
January 10th, 2016
Nairobi, Kenya