New Directions in Contemporary Dance

Written by Tebandeke Samuel Lutaaya

Time check 2:45 pm. I sit at my desk at work as I write this article and muse over the irony of my assignment. I am literally stealing time from my current employer to indulge a guilty pleasure. I am a contemporary dance artist, but my present reality is far from what many expect it should be.

We all probably have this mentality that one can only be called a dancer when one is active in the field, either as a performer, choreographer or teacher.

I am a different kind of dancer. Some may call me a passive participant and others still would term me as a “has been”. Maybe they are all right, for what is a dancer if not a physical manifestation of the immense possibilities that the body can afford the human.

I am not in this position because I want to be. I am trying to make ends meet and who are you to judge me otherwise. To dance is to live. I need to dance to express myself. As long as you can walk, I believe you can dance. The question I then pose to my detractors, “Do I have to be physically involved to be considered a dancer?”

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I have been a dancer since early 2007 and have had a chance to perform, teach and choreograph in different contexts. I have come to realize that we have only just scratched the surface of what is the potential of contemporary dance.

I am tempted to define what dance is, but I am limited within this space. I don’t think anyone can truly define what dance is, because it is a constantly evolving art form that almost feeds on itself and its surroundings to grow.

In Uganda, dance and more specifically, contemporary dance as an emergent art form is confined to Kampala and shows no signs of growing beyond the borders of the capital. I have a strong belief that art is only alive when it is allowed to grow and evolve with society.

Funding, framework, fighting

The success of art, as with any field, is determined by the fundamental laws of supply and demand. Price is largely dependent on these two variables, and failure to understand the symbiotic relationship between the two normally results in catastrophe. The dance sector is faced with challenges within and without.

First of all, the fact that dance is not given its rightful place as an art form affects the ability of the dance artists to source for work or funds to execute projects. The apparent lack of popularity works against the sector with preference given to popular music.

Secondly, there is no framework within which the stakeholders can work effectively. Without the necessary structures in place to support the dance sector, there is little hope of it growing to a level of prominence in our culture.

No discussion on challenges is ever complete without mentioning the most obvious of all, inadequate resources. A friend of mine once told me, “Passion does not pay the rent” and rightly so. Without resources, artists generally are forced to find alternative ways to survive. As a full-time accountant, I am a good illustration.

Thirdly, infighting and unhealthy competition among the companies creates a hostile environment for all the players involved. Another challenge is the inadequate documented information on dance in Uganda as well as the East African region. Dancers need to be able to understand the context in which they work to allow them to function on the cutting edge of the global dance world.

Blending Traditional and Contemporary Dance

There is a lot that needs to be done in the form of research and documentation of existing dance initiatives and styles. Research can also be done in developing new movement vocabulary, which can be molded into a signature contemporary dance style.

African contemporary dance evolved from such initiatives. West African traditional dance was blended with European contemporary dance to create a new way of dancing. I believe that such can be the case in Uganda. With over 100 traditional dances, there is so much material to draw from which can allow us to create a unique and distinguishable style that is marketable internationally.

Structures that support the growth of dance in Uganda as a whole will provide the much-needed impetus for the sector. This is in the form of capacity building initiatives, institutional support as well as the development of a different clusters that would then feed into a country network.

These clusters would be small associations within the different regions in Uganda that would be coordinated from a central location in Kampala. Information dissemination, documentation and preservation of artistic works would be some of the main purposes of this umbrella association.

The health sector is also an area that can benefit from dance through body conditioning for injured people. Somatic rehabilitation can be achieved through the utilisation of some movement styles. Dance therapy is also another avenue that can be exploited through dance. Movement allows people to engage emotions and bring to the surface deep-seated issues that affect the person’s psyche.

The utilisation of dance for other purposes, such as dance in education, is vital to the development of a sector that should have mass appeal due to the importance of cultural groupings. The ability of dancers to harness these possibilities is limited by how much potential they believe exists within the sector.

A Vision for the Future

Where do I see myself?

I know that there will always be performers and the number of teachers is growing. What the sector lacks are people in the kitchen, working behind the scenes. I see myself as one of those very vital people that everyone seems to forget but cannot do without.

The success of the sector depends on such people rising up and taking charge of the direction of the different dance companies and stakeholders that they interact with on a daily basis. These people, whom I shall refer to as architects, have to be visionary leaders who see beyond what is present. They must be strategic in the decisions they make and be willing to foresee and  harness opportunities as they arise.

I want to be an architect! And my daily pursuit is to develop myself to the point where I have the capability to lead and manage for success.

Samuel Lutaaya is a freelance writer with a varying range of interests namely; dance, film, theatre, music, photography, fashion.

For Issue 034 Jul ’13 of, Editor Thomas Bjørnskau invited eight Ugandan artists from different art fields to write an essay about the essence of art, all responding to the same kind of question: to sing/write/paint/write plays etc — what is it really about? This is one of the essays. You can read the other essays here.

2 thoughts on “New Directions in Contemporary Dance

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home
    a little bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog.

    A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

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