For the Reckord | Ugandan teaches dances with stories
Dance educator and critic Alfdaniels Mabingo didn't originally desire a dance career. "I wanted to be a Catholic priest," he confessed to me after a class at the School of Dance, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, last week. He started to dream of becoming a lawyer, instead, "then dance claimed me."
This happened after his first semester at Makerere University and he went on to get both a BA in dance and an MA in performing arts (dance) from that Ugandan institution. Later he received an MA in dance education from New York University. Mabingo is pursuing his PhD in dance education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and teaching East African dance around the world.
The class was lively, humorous and replete with information about Ugandan culture and practices.
"The stories make you feel connected with the African diaspora, something bigger than yourself," said one woman.
Mabingo said, "Having taught in Africa, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, I realise that a number of dance studios just focus on movement without contextualising the movement material. But movements don't exist in a vacuum, they're informed by different philosophies, theories, histories, stories, practices and ideas, which also keeps on evolving.
"So coming to Jamaica, which has strong connections to Uganda, I really wanted to give this country and this institution the history of the dances holistically. That way, they can figure out what's going on with the music and songs, and the drum beat inside the movements. Most important, they can use that information to make a connection outside the realm of dance, in their personal lives."
He uses this contextual approach because that was how he was "ushered into the world of music and dance" in Uganda. "For us, from you're young, everything that you do in terms of creativity has a context," he said.
Studying at Makerere made him want to revive the society's interest in Uganda's arts and culture, which was subjugated under colonial rule, and promote research and the publication of scholarly literature about them. After finishing his PhD, he intends to continue his research in East African culture, nurturing the efforts of educators, researchers, scholars and writers.
Additionally, he plans to establish an initiative, based in Uganda, collaborating with other African countries, the Caribbean and North America. It will foster teaching, research and publication about the national and community arts and culture of the participating countries.
"I've toured many places and never felt so connected to the people," Mabingo said about Jamaica.