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).
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.
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.
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.