Serious business of dancing
The National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), organisers of the show tagged it traditional dance competition aimed at discovering and nurturing young dancers who can make it a career in future. The four secondary schools that participated in the show proved that dance goes beyond mere movement in space and time. Edozie Udeze reports
It is glaring now that most culture departments in the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation want to focus more attention on the development of the young ones in the areas of craft, painting, dance, writing and more. In the past four years or so emphasis has shifted to primary and secondary school children in terms of encouraging them to show more interest in Arts generally. The overall concept is to let them know that there are career prospects in these areas and whoever among them that has innate qualities and talent should not hesitate to develop it.
This is one of the reasons the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) during the week organised a traditional dance competition for secondary school children in Lagos. Four schools were purposely selected to participate based on their dance pedigree over the years. The total concept hinged on how to let them know and then appreciate most Nigerian native and traditional dance patterns. It was for them to look back in time to see how local elements of traditions and cultures influenced people’s dance styles. Essentially attention was paid on the rudiments of dances that are rich in content, movement and message.
The four schools indeed lived up to the bidding. When the drums began to beat and the arena became charged with variety of movements on stage, it became clear that the children had been tutored well. In the first place, three judges were selected. They included Adedayo Liadi Ijodee, Isioma Williams and Victoria Okolo-Agu. Their mandate was to look out for schools that would be able to define the concept of the competition. Where necessary choreographical patterns should be clearly demonstrated mostly based on the level of the kids. It was mainly to see how they can be co-opted into the main core dance profession in which case they would be encouraged to focus on what they already know.
Methodist Boys Secondary School, Lagos, surprised everyone when they came on stage with male dancers that dressed like women. Initially, the improvisation sounded convincing. A lot of people thought they were women until the end of the dance when they began to remove their costumes, ear rings, make-ups, beads and all those ornaments of decoration akin to women. But that was part of the beauty of the show. They danced, dressed like queens, married to a Benin Monarch. The concept was to juxtapose Benin and Igbo cultures which looked good on stage but incapable of convincing the judges. The dances were good at a point when the green-white-green national colours came into focus to form an essential ingredient of the dance pattern of the school. A rise in the tempo of the drumming further accentuated the beauty of the traditional dance style exhibited by the kids. The long and dangling red beads on their necks, the royal crowns on their heads, the bracelets that defined royalty and the horse tail that symbolized power, each in very many ways added colour and rhythm to the dances.
When it was time for St. Andrews Secondary School, Lagos, to mount the stage, it was already glaring that both the audience and the judges were impressed with the efforts of the children. With colourful clothes tied smartly on their waists, with white singlet to match, they depicted the true picture of old traditional Igbo title-holders on their way to an important village parley. The costume was completed with beads of different sizes, each of which obviously defined the status of the wearer in the order of things in the society. Types and sizes of beads usually characterized a person’s place in life in the days of yore.
With the songs rendered in Igbo, the dancers deliberately delved into moonlight songs, songs of age-grades, songs of love and hate, songs that hinged on the format a maiden should take to reach woman-hood. The lead singer, with her voice pitching high and deep, used her mesmerizing movements to stir the arena. She was a maiden in the throes of traditional patterns, both by the way she dressed and her un-canning ability to carry everybody along. At a stage, it appeared they were older than the dance because the strong command of their movements stunned people beyond words. What they sang evoked memories of innocence, those days when young boys and girls lived transparent life that made them the toast of all.
When they were about to leave the stage, they beckoned on the people through their songs to remain faithful to themselves and to the entire society. “All of us are dancers in this world. We are the graceful people and we are going away. Who is a dancer in this sojourn of life? All of us are”. And then off, they went, leaving the audience dumbfounded and in total need of more of such dances.
But it was Rybeka Model College, Lagos, that stole the show, even though they did not eventually win. They came, adorned in Zulu war dance costumes, almost frightening the audience with their awful but colourful war regalia. With spears glittering menacingly in one hand and war shield in the other, the dancers were poised to attack the stage with forceful and protest dances. As they moved from one end of the stage to the other, they made as if they would throw the spear and rush at the audience. These movements excited some, while others did not really find it funny. People were taken years back to South Africa when Apartheid was at its apogee and Zulu war warriors refused to be dissuaded by their white overlords. It was the symbol of protest, with the stringent potency to weaken the white man. But in the end, the judges by-passed them to give the first position to the Top Grade Secondary School, Lagos.
Top Grade, in the words of Adedayo Liadi Ijodee who spoke to The Nation, was able to convince people with their interpretation of the concept. He said: “The judgement was based on the level of the students and what they can offer. We looked at originality which Top Grade truly manifested. We also looked at content, audience reaction and the nature of costumes. The issue of the message and the depth of the songs they rendered, all formed the criteria to give them the first position.
“If you look at what they presented they were able to give the type of fishermen dance that can be replicated in any part of the country. The demonstration was not limited to any people at all. Even though both the costumes of adire and the songs represent the Yoruba culture, they had a central message that defined the whole country. The children, right from the start, were sure of themselves. The choreography was good, the improvisations were apt. these are a set of dancers we need to keep together, keep training and encouraging them to live the life of dancers. If we can do that, I tell you, we’ll have a set of dancers that can move the world in the next couple of years.” Liadi said.
Favour, a student of Rybeka Model College who led her own troupe also told The Nation that due to her love for dance, she has made up her mind to study Dance or Theatre Arts in the university. “Even though my mum wants me to be an Engineer, my grandfather insists that I should do what my mind tells me to do. At school, we rehearse Dance three to four times every week and that has afforded me the opportunity to learn more,” she said.
In her welcome speech, Chinwe Abara, the head of the Lagos office of NCAC apologised that the programme came a bit late due to some tight administrative schedule. However, she advised the children to keep close to their talents and the skills where they are proficient. “The concept of cultural literacy has long gained global acceptance. It encourages the perpetuation of broadly shared background knowledge of national language, history, traditional literature, folklore and myth. Therefore the impartation of traditional contents provides children the necessary foundation for further educational, economic and social improvement. This is why the year’s programme focuses on traditional dance competition. It is to show dance in a folkloric form to synchronise with the beliefs of the people,” she said.
She reminded both the children and their parents that dance is now a serious business capable of job creation, economic empowerment and opportunity to make people excel in life. “Let us look at the life of the Late Hubert Ogunde who rose to fame through dance. And here at the artistes’ village, you can see many dance troupes. You can also see Ijodee and his people who have conquered the world through dance,” she said.
The guest of honour, Ben Ikeakor who has been in the forefront of the promotion of children’s cultural programmes advised them not to lose focus of what dreams they have for themselves so that they wouldn’t grow up to be deviants. “We have too many of such young people today and so we need to do more to avoid raising more deviant leaders of tomorrow. Approach your parents with respect and obedience so that they will be able to do more to educate you. When they pay so much to educate you, all you need do is read and study very hard to justify the pay and then you’d have succeeded in making them happy.”
The schools that won the competition were presented with prizes. This is to encourage them do more in the next edition of the competition.
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