Frank Family Talk With Dancers

That the dancer may be fulfilled
*Being a talk delivered by Jahman Anikulapo at the World Dance Day 2005 on the theme Dance: A Hobby or Profession, organised by the Guild of Nigerian Dancers, GOND

INTRODUCTION:
Documentation
I SHOULD like to begin this talk by paying tribute to our senior colleagues in the various disciplines of the arts, who have devoted aspects of their career to documentation of our artistic and cultural productions and experiences. This for me is as important as the performance or production of the creative work itself. Without their work we will be like a ship without an anchor. We will know neither where we are coming from nor where we should head.
Documentation is one vital venture in our profession, which we artists have neglected; and this has affected the quality of our production as well as discourse on our artistic and cultural experiences.
The Nigerian artists, no doubt, have been very productive, perhaps sometimes hyper-productive. But we have not spared the time to put down in written form materials that the coming generation can share from. This is dangerous. And it explains why we seem to be so perennially impoverished in terms of ideas; and why we seem to operate as professionals without antecedents of accomplishments.
I am passionate about the documentation of our practices, because almost every time one tries to do a write up about some aspects of our artistic practices, one runs into this huge gulf of empty library or resource pools. I faced it in the course of doing this piece.
Particularly, for us as dance artists whose production could be ephemeral – even when momentous -- except captured in electronic mediums, documentation is very important.
As a professional artist -- whether you are a dancer, musician, actor, director, whatever your vocation -- documentation is essential.
In this light, I should like to pay tribute to some efforts in that direction. Particularly for this talk, I recognise Professor (Mrs) Ebun Clark, who did that wonderful book on the icon of our theatre, Chief Hubert Ogunde.
Professor Clark's ‘Hubert Ogunde, The Making of Nigerian Theatre’ has been of tremendous help to many of us theatre students and scholars just as Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi's ‘Drama and Theatre in Nigeria’. There are also the many editions of Nigeria Magazine, particularly those focusing on theatre.
We always make reference to the exploits of Peter Badejo because even in his advanced age, he is still the quintessential dancer. He is still dancing, creating new works. He is even doing more than dance as we have been told.
He has been frequenting the country trying to do some research into traditional dances... that was the point I was making when I said we are sort of under-developing our own profession, our own practice by not paying enough attention to documentation.
Should it be the lot of Badejo -- after having arrived on the international stage -- to come home again and document our traditional dances? Whatever happens to dance students in the various schools? What manner of themes or subjects do dance teachers counsel their students to undertake? In their long essays, thesis and dissertations? Whatever happens to the tens of dancers and troupes operating in the country today?
In the past two to three years, Professor Femi Osofisan, Dr. Ahmed Yerima, Dr. Ayo Akinwale, Dr. Duro Oni, Dr Gbemisola Remi-Adeoti and others -- well past the fortyish mark -- have released a number of books that have enriched theatre scholarship. There are the various editions of Dapo Adelugba's classic materials, ‘Lace Occasional Publications’, which remain evergreen...
What is my generation doing?

DANCE AS HOBBY OR PROFESSION?
If you think that to be a dancer is just to have the talent and then acquire the skill and then go on the Airport tarmac and dance, may be you are thinking of dance as a 'hobby'.
But if you are thinking of dance as a profession, you must look into much of what Dr. Ahmed Yerima has told us about the commitment and the willingness to read and to learn and to see yourself as an intellectual of a certain cadre. You must always be conscious of the fact that you can apply your intellect into your dance and make statements that would make your dance relevant to the experience of your audience or the society in which you operate.
To me, the way a dancer pursues his dance career either as a profession or hobby depends on the way he himself encountered dance; whether you encountered dance while you were growing up or in your adult life. It is the way you encountered dance that will instruct the way you practise your dance -- as a profession or as a hobby.
We all know the story of Chief Hubert Ogunde very well. He said that his grandfather was like the spiritual head of his childhood community, so he actually grew up in an atmosphere in which dance was performing certain ritualistic or communal roles. This means that dance was a cultural instrument through which certain societal functions were being accomplished. Ogunde encountered dance as a functional art form. He did not encounter dance at the ' Owanbe' parties.
This has been one basic problem this generation is facing. You have to ask yourself: 'how did I encounter dance -- at ‘Owanbe', the Ogunde way, or on the professional stage?
This is why I tend to sympathise with many of our colleagues when they devote their career to dancing on the Airport tarmac. When they are not dancing on the tarmac, they are waiting for some companies to invite them for a 10-minute shot at annual general meetings. And these come with in-built insults... after the show the pittance they pay cannot even take you home.
And your frustration gets worse when you see those you have given the pleasure of your talent and skill enter their air-conditioned cars and drive home while you wait at the bus stop thinking of how to drag your drums and wearied body and soul home.

THE PROFESSIONAL DANCER
IF you want to be a professional dancer, then you must see yourself as a functional member of the society. You must ensure that you have a mission as a dancer. If you set out as a dancer without a mission then you are not a dancer, you are just dancing; just expressing your hobby.
If you have no mission at the time you are setting out to go and dance or to launch a troupe, then you will dance alright but you will never have a sense of fulfillment.
As dancers, we also have to change our attitude to our vocation. This is one area in which the Guild of Nigerian Dancers really has to work hard. I said earlier that the thread between a dancer dancing for hobby and dancing as a professional is very thin, and if you are not careful, you are likely to just be crisscrossing the lines without you knowing it. So we have to sit down, and really address ourselves. What do you want to be? If you want to be 'hobby dancer', let us know so that we can create in the Guild of Nigerian Dancers, a department of 'hobby dancers', so that we don't mix you up with the professionals.
We must never make the mistake of lumping those two categories together. When we continue to mix them up, we will never get the proper definition for the professional dancer.

LEARNING AND TRAINING
I think the first thing we should do apart from the documentation we've talked about is for the young dancer to come down from whatever height they think they have attained, and go back to study the basics, which the unruly atmosphere of dance practice environment in this country had denied them.
I am not saying you should necessarily go back to school to study dance -- (and why not if it would help your career?) -- I am actually saying you should go back and say 'okay, my career is successful; now, I want to learn one or two tricks more'.
And then you go and ask: 'where can I get that tape of Ogunde's dance? I just want to watch the way the evergreen artiste went about it'.
Apart from Chief Ogunde, Peter Badejo is still very much around us. How many of us have asked to see his portfolio? He brought Itan Kahani (the Nigerian–Indian dance constructions) here some years ago, and it opened the eyes of many of us to the limitless possibilities of our so-called indigenous dance as a contemporary art form that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Western dance form that we copy shamelessly. When he directed the ceremonies of the 8th All African Games in 2003, we were all witnesses to the beauty of a dancer's art. Many of us privileged to see that work will never stop pondering the creative dimension to which the so-called African ethnic dance can be stretched.
How many of our young dancers have revisited this work’s to interrogate its concept and performance techniques or even shown interest in understanding how the dances were created?
There is Olu Olukanye who as a student I encountered as a very resourceful dancer and choreographer.
When Okekanye was introduced by the compere of this gathering few minutes ago, I noticed many of my dancer friends do not know Olu Okekanye. That is sad!
We don't even know the heroes of our profession! So how do we proceed to know the history of our profession, share the experience of the elders or learn from their mistakes.
When we talk of dance on the Nigerian stage, people like Okekanye deserve standing ovation for the service they have rendered; they started what we now call professional dance troupes of the English language theatre, at least here in Lagos.
From my little knowledge of Nigeria's dance history in the past three decades, apart from Ogunde, Ogunmola, Ladipo and others in their pioneer class, the Okekanyes, Yemi Remis, Eppi Fanio (Faroofa), were the major stars of dance troupes in Lagos of the post-FESTAC era. After them come Zulu Adigwes, Amata Braides, Arnold Udokas, Ojo Rasakis, Liz Hammond, Bola Eberighas, Chris Ugolos, Chuks Okoyes, Moji Bamtefas, etc. They are still very much around, and these are the people that we should relate to: take them up and ask them questions such as: "How was it possible you were able to organize that troupe at that time?
'How did you survive?'
'What happened that you did not continue with that group? '
'Why is it that you could not follow up what, you were trying to do at that time?'
We have to learn from our elders and masters.

MASTERING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
I asked a couple of friends what dance meant to them. Someone said "dance in Africa is not a separate art, but a part of the whole complexities of living". He continued, "for an African, the magic of all life's experiences is encapsulated in his dance'.
Another said "African dance is vital and complex; it varies according to the individual cultural experience that produces it".
Yet another stretched the argument further, saying, "Traditional dance in Africa is the integrated art of movement that is dictated by music, governed by language. Its relationship to music is what really distinguishes it from any other art form. African dance is also a source of communication through which it is possible to demonstrate emotion, sentiment and other reactions through movement".
The import of these submissions just as Chief Ogunde had pointed out is that before you become an international dancer or what Dr. Yerima called 'Western dancer', at least, you must master your indigenous forms and materials; that is you must master your environment, and master your cultural heritage before you can go into the world and really conquer.
This is not to deride the ambition to master the language of modern dance that is spoken all over the world, on the world stage. But it is to state that, you cannot be a good modern dancer, if you don't first of all master what you have on ground. If you don't understand the language of Bata dance, or music of Sango dance, or Atilogwu dance or Koroso dance or Kwagh-hir or Ekombi and you think you can just go out there and join in the global discourse on the art, you are making a mistake because you must go there with an identity.
What identity are you taking to the globalisation table so that you don't get swallowed up by the bigger, more muscular cultures of the West, which in fact perpetuate their self-reverence by muzzling out the 'others'. If you don't have a bold identity to drive you, you might end up committing the kind of mistake that our nation and most African nations are committing by going to discuss Globalisation without any sense of purpose! It is as futile as that nebulous concept (or misconceived conception) called 'technology transfer'. Of course, you know that we are not transferring any knowledge of technology; rather, we are using our ill-education to destroy the remaining vestige of our knowledge of traditional sciences and technology.

UNDERSTANDING THE DIMENSIONS OF DANCE.
I reason that part of the problem some of us have as young dancers is the inability to differentiate between modern dance and what we call ethnic dance.
Many of our young dancers think to have a good, deep knowledge of the so-called ethnic dance is a waste or retrogressive; and they want to engage in modern dance so they can be considered great dancers in the eyes of the West or their institutions operating in this country.
There is nothing wrong with this ambition. What is worrisome is the attempt to romance modern dance without summoning the courage and the intellectual rigour needed to master its technique or even understand its ethics and cultures.
Some of our colleagues — among us here today — see the photograph of some western dancers or they see it on video and they want to copy it... but they are going into that experiment without a solid foundation. So, after copying a lot of what you have seen from some other dancers from other cultures, you crash in terms of career progression or even technique mastering; in terms of ideas; in terms of materials. That is the end of the career. And then you return to your airport tarmac dancing days.
The ethnic dance, which you have sworn you don't want to do, now becomes your retirement option. At this time, the fire has left your leg and your bones have been conditioned by years of wrong application of vision and techniques.

SOCIETAL ATTITUDE AS ODD TO PROFESSIONAL DANCING
The society itself does not perceive dance as a serious vocation. To many of the people, dance though pleasurable is a distraction. 'Oh those dancers, well, let them just entertain us and go'. They will tell you, you have 10 minutes, but when it is seven minutes, they start saying you should go. They are not interested whether or not you are telling a story and trying to get the message across. Left to them, you are disturbing 'Item 7'; so you must go.
So, aside not getting your due financial reward from the show, your spiritual fulfilment is aborted midway. They ignominiously stop your creative expression midcourse, maybe because the Managing Director's mistress wants to go and retouch her 'pancakes' in the Ladies!
If you conceive yourself as an Airport Tarmac dancer, just like Airport Art, or you conceive yourself as 'Owambe dancers', which means you go to wedding and the rest of them to perform — then you are probably talking of dance as a hobby.
Unfortunately or sad enough, much of what we are still doing is this hobby dancing.

Look at the societal conception of dance itself. How does the society conceive dance? We've just been told that the society does not expect you to make a career out of dance; that is why they say "call those people at abe igi, let them come and dance for us'! And in the end they abuse you; insult you with their pittance; and probably throw you out of the venue, when you ask to partake of the dinner for the event.
If you live in such an environment, what do you do as a dancer; or what do you want to do as a dancer, to begin to insist on your dignity; that your professional integrity be respected? To confront that prejudice means that you have to package yourself very well. And in packaging, we are not talking about cosmetic packaging. We are saying that, you have to equip yourself intellectually, physically, emotionally. Even the way you talk in the public, the way you approach your art... you have to really comport yourself in such a way that, you can begin to change the negative perception of the society.
I have had occasion to ask myself: 'how can a professional dancer survive in a society like Nigeria whose main occupation is trading? Oh yes, the major profession of Nigeria is trading and since dance is not a buying and selling affair, a dancer will be standing in a very precarious state! You have to be very careful.
And since in Nigeria — a profession is conceived or interpreted in terms of suits and jackets, and since the dancer is not likely to wear a piece of suit or jacket everyday unless on Dance Day such as this, you are not likely to be seen as a professional. You have to be very conscious of the environment.
The conception of professionalism in Nigeria is driven by commercial or profit motifs and the art most times emphasise principles that are antithetical to commerce. So, if you are not a banker, insurance broker, lawyer or other professions that are specifically driven by the commercial motives, then you a dancer, you are standing on a very dangerous stage. You must not allow the society pressures push you to merchandise your art; or coat your profession in the deceptive glistening of mercantilism.
Even if dancers are ready to be professionals in Nigeria, is Nigeria ready to accommodate dancers in its business space? Not when you are fighting pastors who say that the second World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture, FESTAC, was the beginning of the crash of the Nigerian economy and the Nigerian moral standards; when you are standing against friends, who say that if you are dancing, you are wayward; not when you are studying Theatre Arts in school, and they say you don't even belong to this University in the first place you should be somewhere else!

THE RUSH TO THE BORDER
One of the battles we are facing as dancers in this country, is this 'going abroad' mentality! And this we need to tackle else we jeopardise advancement of the dance art profession.
While thinking about the issue of dance and the dance artiste, I had called on my school-mate. Mr. Muyiwa Ojo, who studied at the University of Ibadan between 1983 and 1986. Popularly called OJays, out of a class of about 30, Ojo was the only one that eventually decided to turn a professional dancer. He used to run the Youth Palace in Ibadan and had a stint with the veteran dancer, Zulu Adigwe — before he left Nigeria in 1992.
While at the University of Ibadan, Ojo, Isiaka Egunbunmi, the diminutive bata drummer, actor (now a filmmaker) and myself, we used to run two separate weekly dance programmes on NTA Oyo and BCOS Orita Bashorun. But as at the time we were graduating from the department of theatre arts, Ojays was the only one who graduated as a Dance major. After sometime, Ojo left for the USA. We did not see him and I thought he had given up dance. But when he came home recently, I met him and we had time to reflect on some of the complex movements and dance formations he created, with which we made some great shows at the theatre department then. He laughed and told me he had actually been dancing all his life. He never stopped for one day. And he has been teaching dance at a University in the USA.
That for me, is very instructive because, I know of so many of our colleagues, members of our generation who left these shores as dancers but have gone into retailing or trading or some other ventures
I ask myself: where are they today? Are they dancing?
We need to ask ourselves that important question. We talk about Peter Badejo, and people of his generation, they are still dancing; but those who came behind them, and left for overseas, purportedly to advance their career, are they still dancing?
Especially, members of the Guild of Nigeria Dancers who left these shores to participate in festivals or some programmes abroad but did not come back, are they still dancing?
Remember France '98? I recall that more than six troupes — at least none with not less than 20 artistes — left this country! Many of them did not come back! Are they still dancing?
This question is germane to those of us practising in the country today. We stand the risk of ending our career like that, if we don't individually and collectively develop visionary managerial structure to guide our practice.
If you are a professional dancer, and you left here with the sense of a professional, you will promise yourself to remain a professional dancer.
Dance is worse than a jealous lover. It demands absolute loyalty, love and commitment. And the demand is not just on the state of your body but also on your mental disposition to the vocation; such that not even hunger can drag you out of its web of romance.
I recall that even before Muyiwa Ojo left home, there had been such good dancers like Bode Lawal, Bose Aliu and so many others who left. But ask yourself; are they still dancing?
Why in fact, are they not dancing?

RECOMMENDATIONS:
We have to find a way of encouraging most of our dancers to publish their personal memoirs collected in the course of their engagements abroad. When you travel outside, at least, you should come back with a diary. You should be able to relate your experience and be able to inform your mates, what the outside world, at least, that place you have gone to, what they think about dance as a profession in Nigeria and what they think about dance in other worlds.
We should collate reviews of dance projects in the media or press cuttings of dance projects — you can go into alliance with the newspaper house and tell them to give you some of these copies — so that you can publish and people can read and learn what had been done in the past and build on past accomplishments.
We have to revive or find a way of reviving dance programmes on the electronic media. There was a time we had various dances across Nigeria being broadcast on the network television. Is it not possible to bring them back as a way of educating the Nigerian dancer and the Nigerian society about the beauty and the function of our dances?
We could have discussion programmes in the media; we could have columns on dance in the newspaper just as we have for music and theatre.
In the Dancers Guild of Nigeria, we should not just concern ourselves with yearly staging of World Dance Day... I don't think that it is impossible to revisit what the GOND started sometimes ago that you called 'Monthly Discussion on Dance' as a way of educating members of the dance family in the country.
We must bear in mind that the dance schools, the dance classes are not focused on really teaching the dancer about how to behave and how to operate in a society, the monthly dance talks can serve as refresher courses. This will also enhance outings of Nigerian dance outfits in the yearly 'Dance Meets Danse' of the French Culture Centre.
The dancers must think of back-to-school project. I am sure majority of us here, we started our theatre experiences as students, as pupils in drama societies in schools. It is very sad there are no more drama societies in schools.
But why shouldn't some of our dancers go to teach dance in some of these expensive nursery or private colleges or even the universities? I believe that for every child you teach, you have a whole family being converted to your profession. No parent will fail to show interest in that person teaching his or her child how to dance. Think about that.

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