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A day with a professional dancer

By | October 18th 2008

Juliet Kwamboka (Toxic)

To many of us, dancing is a something we do for leisure or to let off steam after a hectic day or week. However, there are people who have not only made a career out of dance but have also managed to make it serious business, writes BRENDA KAGENI.

Juliet Kwamboka (Toxic)

20 years old

Owns and manages her own dance group, Toxic Dancers

I have been dancing for as long as I can remember. I believe I was made to dance. That is what makes me happy, that is what I am good at. I am proud of dancing but sometimes it can be a struggle to get recognised for your talent. I first got noticed when I was in Form Three. I was dancing at one of those school functions. The next minute I was in the newspapers. It brought lots of issues especially with my family.

Baby Felixanna Isabel

I have six dancers. Most of them are men. I prefer to work with men. It is hard to find a girl who is focused and who will not keep bringing her personal issues to work so I avoid such liabilities. I do my dancing as a business. It is good business if you have bright people working with you, people who know how to strategise and who are focused. I would advise one to do their PR and be wise about who they work with.

Dancers in Kenya are not paid their worth. When people don’t appreciate us we tend to relax. But you can choose to either let that make you stronger or break you. Being positive matters.

I like working with an artiste. That way I do so many shows then I have no problems with money. Right now I work with Jua Cali. Someone else would have to pay me lots of money for me to dance for them.

In the past I have had problems with the media. When they write something bad about me, people who wanted to join dancing fear and pull back since they think they will be in the same position as me.

There is also the money issue but if you are bright, are professional and can deliver, you will succeed. If you do a good job people will always give you business.

I always make sure I get information on the kind of show we will be performing in to avoid getting into trouble with patrons. That way I know whether to prepare for a family show, club show, or for children.

For those dancing for fun, this may seem easy, but let me say it is a lot of hard work. Having a team like Sarakasi Dancers that is organised and dedicated, takes lots of work.

I have someone who deals with the dancers and does the training and choreography. My work is mainly marketing to book events with clients. At the end of the week I go to see how far they are. Initially I used to do everything, the training, choreography, looking for clients and dancing.

Hottest dancer in Nairobi

Jane Wanjiru

I know I am talented. As far I am concerned, I am the hottest dancer in Nairobi. The secret is to be principled and to stay focused on how you can turn dancing into a profitable business for you and your people. I have to deliver so that my dancers can deliver.

I want to continue with dancing. It keeps kids off the streets. Ninety per cent of the kids I work with would probably be on the street if they didn’t have such an opportunity.

I love dancing to hip-hop, R&B and sexy. But I can dance to anything.

If you know and feel inside that dancing is what you want to do, let nothing stop you. If you think you’ve got talent but no one notices, look for me. As long as you are good and determined, I will help to make sure that your talent is appreciated and you get the business you want.

Baby Felixanna Isabel

Dances with Kayamba Afrika and with her own Izzy Dance troupe

I started dancing in high school in a dance group that included Winnie of Boomba Girls. In 2001 we formed another group called La-Bash (LA for Lang’ata) through which we would dance for various artistes. It was a bit difficult for me because I was also working somewhere else.

I got a baby boy — he’s called Angel and I love him so much — and I had to take a bit of a break. Afterwards I went solo from 2003 since Winnie had also left to join Boomba Girls. I found it easier to work alone, though I later joined Sarakasi Dancers. Last year I saw Juma Odemba the Kayamba Afrika boss at Wasanii and introduced myself to him as a dancer. He welcomed me to join them and I am now the fifth permanent dancer with the group. It is a good group and I am happy working with them.

I also have my own dance group, it’s called Izzy Dance Group. Izzy is my stage name. Some guys saw me dancing and were interested in working with me. We are ten of us: Four men, and six women.

Dancing is what pays my rent and buys my milk. Many people do not appreciate that one can make a life out of dancing. The moment you tell them you are a dancer they ask you if that’s not a hobby?

We appreciate that people have really supported us. One of the radio stations has been calling us for their functions and we really appreciate that since getting clients can be difficult.

I think the greatest moment I had was during the launch of Q FM when I got to dance for Tanzania’s TMK Wanaume. I have always loved them and it was great dancing for them.

Another great thing was giving birth — the whole experience of bringing another human being on earth was quite something.

To everyone who wants to make it big as a dancer, I would tell them to obey their instincts. If you feel you are good at something, get into it and work hard at it. Don’t give up before you even start. As a dancer, it can take you a long time before you are recognised. Patience, however, pays. Don’t be discouraged when you see friends with whom you started a dancing career making it big before you. And don’t rush for charters. I have had many stories of girls who got deals to dance in Dubai only to be used as prostitutes there.

When you are on stage, you are a dancer. Out of stage, you are you. Sometimes you will find men who call you, "sweetie, si ucome unishakie kiuno kidogo?" That can really bring you down. But I respect my job and myself. That is a job like any other.

Some musicians have no respect for dancers as they end up not paying them after a show, even after an agreement. They also don’t pay as much as they get from the events.

The main challenge is finding space for practice. National theatre for example charges between Sh500 and Sh1000 for a room. That is expensive for an up-coming group. Currently we do our practice at one of the girls’ homes.

I love dancing hip-hop and ragga. Right now I am working on salsa and rhumba, but I give people what they want to see. I have started living my dream, to have my own dance troupe. Eventually I want to start a dance school. I love dealing with children.

Jane Wanjiru

River Road’s best dancers

I started dancing in primary school then with a youth dance troupe at Kariobangi Catholic Church. Later I joined the Kenya National Theatre Traditional Dance Troupe from where I learnt all the traditional dances of Kenya. We begun improvising steps for clubs that needed dancers and then moved to doing video shoots for VCDs. I have been dancing since 1992.

Apart from VCDs, I mostly do road shows, parties and events at big hotels. I love dancing; it keeps me fit. However it is hard work and you have to train daily and be creative in developing dance routines and steps.

Dancers in Kenya have many challenges, they are viewed as prostitutes and sometimes people refuse to pay us. You follow them up after a show until you give up. We have not yet reached that point where we can have written contracts to protect us. Even those who pay do not pay well. But it is a job through which you can earn your living especially if you are well known.

I find it easier to get business as I am well known on River Road. I can dance all the Kenyan dances and people know I am good. Shalom Communication proprietor Mr Gichuhi has our numbers and he calls us whenever there is a job.

There are so many girls, who instead of becoming house helps, have come to me and I have trained them. I just tell them the realities and the challenges of the job so that they don’t give up.

It has been hard setting up a permanent troupe as people keep breaking off. many clients just want two girls and that is hard for the team. We are six of us but sometimes I find myself going to dance alone because that is what a client wants.

The girls who are doing strip tease have really destroyed our market. People want dancers who can strip. When we say we can’t clubs no longer want us.

I have lasted this long in this business because I do not drink. One should also never mix with customers. It spoils our name and our work. Discipline is key.

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