By Furaha Asani ||
In her own words…
My name is Mariama Touré. I am a passionate 26-year-old African woman. I am a political journalist and communication specialist as that’s what I have studied. Since I was a kid I’ve always been into arts, culture and entertainment through writing, singing, rapping, hosting shows and most of all, dancing. This is who I am. I got back to Senegal in 2011 after finishing my higher studies in Canada. I opened The Dance HALL (a dance school in Dakar, Senegal) in November 2013.
What inspired you to open the Dance HALL in Dakar?
I have to confess it first came from a personal need. I was looking for a place to go and express my love for dance other than clubs, but still just for fun. There was no such thing around. I was surprised because in Senegal dancing is so commonplace. And why wouldn’t one be able to go take a dance class as one would take tennis?
From that personal need, I ended up realising that many did see dance as an ‘added value’ to culture. I quickly came to realise that professional dancers had no dedicated venue and very few professional opportunities.
For most people dancing could never be a serious career prospect. All that put together convinced me to open the dance center.
Most people know that Africans are very rhythmic people. New dances to accompany new styles of music seem to be created quite often. In your opinion, what would you say makes African dances unique?
Traditional heritage, cultural diversity, and Internet…plus a little craziness I guess, lol. I can’t say Africans are by essence, or naturally more rhythmic people than the rest of the world. But what I know for sure is that we are usually born and raised in music and rhythms. Maybe it is due to the fact that we’ve always used body language in our culture to express things and feelings whether good or bad (death, new born, weddings and so on.) That sure has left a good heritage.
Added to that, hundreds of diversified and different cultures from one country to another across the continent meet and are exported way quicker nowadays with the Internet. It sure is, in my opinion a good bucket for creativity.
Plus now we add the foreign dances (Latin, American, European) and cultures to our own. How can’t it be explosive?
Do you think that African dances are well received abroad?
Well, I can only answer from our own little experience. A lot of European and American people are contacting us to come and take classes with us. Also if you look at the comments on our A-Z videos, you’ll see that it’s widely appreciated by people who aren’t from the continent. Yes I think what we all in our center agree that ‘modern afro’ is the next ‘BOOM’ dance style. Just like Hip-Hop and Dancehall were at some point.
Your exciting video, ‘A-Z of African dance’ has been viewed nearly 200, 000 times on YouTube. Any chance that you and your team will be making more of these videos (perhaps with different themes) in the near future?
Yes, we will make more videos and tutorials. It’s part of our aim to be the most dynamic dance center in Africa. It means we will always innovate and making videos is our best way to have international exposure.
How long did you it take you to practice and make that video?
The A-Z story is quite crazy. WE NEVER PRACTICED. A friend of mine and I came up with the idea after seeing the A-Z of dances (by Diesel) with NO AFRICAN DANCE AT ALL. How is that even possible? Few days later, I contacted the best professional dancers at the center and around and we agreed on a day for filming.
I came up with an A-Z list of African dances that we discussed, completed, changed a bit and then we distributed the roles.
It was a fun day. Most of the dancers are of different nationalities and knew the dances, so it wasn’t hard at all. It took us maybe 2 hours the first day of shooting and 1 hour the second day to complete, because some dancers weren’t available the first time.
Kirsner, who shot the video, is also a professional dancer. He’s been into producing dance-related videos for a while now with his label Kirs & Bell production. He did the awesome job of editing the video and we had it ready to be put on YouTube a week later.
We never expected the video to make such an amazing impact. We did it for fun and to correct what we thought was a misconception. We wanted to show that Africa – alone – could have an A-Z of dances. We could even have 10,000 A-Z dance videos.
How would you encourage the propagation of more dance schools around Africa, especially in countries where few may exist?
I’ll tell all those who think of opening a dance center/school at some point to just go for it! Because each of them can be an ambassador for the African culture and Africa in general. Also, opening dance schools will participle in offering employability solutions to professional African dancers (they can then teach to amateurs like we do in our center).
It’s about time we made it an honorable career option. I don’t know if it’s encouraging but I’ll also say this: If they don’t do it, I will. I’ll open The Dance Hall all over the continent!
Do you have any practical advice for anyone who may wish to open up a dance school?
Don’t rush and stay focused. Opening a dance center might seem like a fun project. But it’s no different than a full time job. I think in some ways, it’s even harder than many jobs, as the key to your school’s success is human resources. And here, we are talking about artists. They are not always easy to manage. So make sure you recruit well and train well.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Which part of my career exactly? I wear so many hats. I have a journalism career and the highlight for me regarding that was launching my own magazine ‘The Citizen’ in 2012.
In my entrepreneur career with The Dance Hall, the highlight is the success of our first annual show after only 7 months of existence, with 350 people in attendance.
Describe your country to us.
My country is a crazy, messy place but yet sooooo great to live in. Youth mix urban and traditional lifestyle with no problem. They surf on the American culture and still have their own strong African traits.
My country is way too hot during summer. During winter, the weather is still cool, therefore it’s is a great escape (holiday destination) for foreigners. Diversity was never a problem and foreigners are always welcome in here to share tea or lunch.
My country is funny on Fridays. People like to dress in fancy traditional clothes and are crazy on the streets, though the traffic is a mood killer.
Dakar, the capital, is a cultural hub with 3 millions inhabitants (out of 14 millions) with remarkable ethnic and religious diversities.
The official language is French, but Wolof is more widely spoken language. Still the English, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages the sellers can speak in the market will astonish you. Senegalese people are happy people.
How do you think your cause can contribute to rebranding Africa, and showcasing us in a positive light?
By showcasing new, fun, positive energy, under the international media lights through what we do.
By showing we don’t only have wars and hunger in Africa but also a great culture that can be exported in so many ways.
By showing Africa has talents. By showing young people are not just sitting and waiting for NGO’s aid – not at all. They are working hard toward their ambitions. That is how.
What are your hopes and dreams for The Dance Hall, and for Africa in general?
My hopes and dreams for The Dance HALL is for it to get the closest possible to it’s vision: to be the most dynamic dance center in Africa, make dance accessible to everyone, participate in positively changing the image of dance and offering employment to professional dancers.
That is my hope and dream. I also hope by the end of this journey that maybe somebody else will take over from me, (to have) as many TDH centers in different African countries as possible.
My dream for Africa is to acquire consciousness of its potential, talent, and duty. Turning TINA (There Is No Alternative) to ‘THIS IS (the) NEW AFRICA’!
Follow Mariama @made4that
This post was originally published in September 2012, on African Hadithi and has been republished with the permission of the author.