Hip-hop dancers defy Zimbabwe's woes

Harare -- Wearing baggy matching T-shirts and exuding urban street style, the dancers spin through their routines to a backtrack of thumping hip-hop beats -- not in a park in New York, but in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

See Full Article

The Elysium dance group brings a rare burst of energy to a weekday lunchtime in Harare, a dilapidated city that has endured years of economic decline, authoritarian rule and mass emigration.

Much of Zimbabwe's official data is unreliable, but figures suggest less people are in formal jobs than any time since 1968, and some economists put unemployment as high as 80 percent.

Millions of young people have left the country since 2000 when government-backed seizures of white-owned farms triggered a collapse of the agriculture sector and hyper-inflation wrecked the economy.

But every day, about 20 young people gather in Harare Gardens park for a gruelling session of dance moves that look straight from a professional American dance studio or film set.

Heather Gupo, 21, who joined Elysium four months ago after losing her job with a fast-food chain, said dancing offers her an outlet for her ambitions, despite her family's disapproval.

"I faced a lot of resistance including being beaten up, and locked indoors (by relatives) to try to stop me going to rehearsals," Gupo told AFP.

"I have been called all sorts of names, the mildest one being 'bar dancer'.

"But dancing is one thing I am good at, so I decided to pursue it anyway."

Gupo lives with her mother and four siblings, and when money ran short she was forced to give up hopes of studying law at university to take a job as a waitress.

Now she helps with decorations at weddings, and works as a make-up artist.

The troupe earn occasional fees performing at corporate parties or civil events, but not enough to provide the dancers with a regular income.

Instead the intense practice sessions provide an essential release for youths frustrated by life in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe, 91, who has ruled since independence in 1980.

Channelled frustration

"As they dance they express themselves," said dance leader Hillary Tandi Chin'ono, who instructs the group by barking military-style orders and is addressed as the "chief commander".

"There are some who are very bitter with disappointment in their lives, so they channel their energy towards dance and express that bitterness, that anger.

"After they have left rehearsals, they are too tired to think of anything else so they will go home to relax instead of sitting on bridges taking drugs."

Daves Guzha, Zimbabwe's most famous theatre director, likened the emergence of new dance groups to how the hip-hop movement grew as a mode of expression for disillusioned black youth in the United States.

"Like hip-hop, it's about the kids," Guzha said.

"In an environment like we have at the moment where there are no jobs, we are bound to see more of the dance groups trying to get more professional.

"Ultimately, perhaps it is going to produce gems from the talent that's will come out."

One regular date for Elysium is the annual street carnival organised by the tourism ministry to try to lure tourists to Zimbabwe.

Competition between rival dance groups is fierce, and standards are high.

"It is not easy, but Elysium has opened closed doors in my life. I had financial problems in 2013. That's when I started taking dance seriously," Marlon Magondo, 23, said.

"Things are hard these days so one can only survive by doing as many things as possible. I also work a bit as a singer and gymnastics instructor.

"I decided to try dancing since it was the only thing I could do to get a bit of money without first going to college."

The depressed economy has spawned what economists in Zimbabwe have called "a lost generation", waiting and hoping for change when Mugabe dies or loses power.

"You find a lot of young people, whether they have passed exams or not, are unemployed," said Plot Mhako, head of the country's biggest contemporary dance even, the Jibilika Dance Festival.

"They are faced with a lot of challenges, and some young people find dancing is what they need -- an escape."



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Lady Gaga, Pokemon Go, Steve Buscemi among 407 Webby Award winners

    Entertainment CBC News
    Lady Gaga, Pokemon Go and Steve Buscemi are among the winners of this year's Webby Awards. The annual honour, now in its 21st year, celebrates the best of the internet and web culture. Gaga won a pair of Webbys for her high-tech tribute to David Bowie at last year's Grammys, which was produced in partnership with Intel. Source
  • 'La La Land' day declared in Los Angeles

    Entertainment CTV News
    Los Angeles' mayor has proclaimed Tuesday is "La La Land" day as acrobats suspended by ropes danced their way across the outside walls of City Hall. Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed the honour for the musical that claimed six Academy Awards in February and put a spotlight on various locales throughout the city with elaborate song-and-dance numbers. Source
  • 'Grey's Anatomy's' Jesse Williams files for divorce

    Entertainment CTV News
    In this March 19, 2017, file photo, Jesse Williams attends the 34th annual PaleyFest: Grey's Anatomy event at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File) Source
  • Drake named world's most popular recording artist in 2016

    Entertainment CTV News
    LONDON - Drake was the world's most popular recording artist in 2016, as the growth of music streaming gave global music sales their biggest boost in 20 years. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said Tuesday that Drake had the years' bestselling single, with "One Dance," and the third bestselling album, "Views. Source
  • Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ character has a big future in the MCU [Photos] [Vi

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES — The Marvel Cinematic Universe has big plans for Sylvester Stallone. The 70-year-old action icon appears in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Stakar, a Ravager who banished Michael Rooker’s space-pirate Yondu when he found out that Yondu was selling child slaves on the side. Source
  • Patricia Cornwell returns to beginnings as crime novelist

    Entertainment CTV News
    CHESTERFIELD, Va. -- Patricia Cornwell has gone back to her beginnings, the place where she got her start writing crime novels. She's returned to the Chesterfield County Police Department in Virginia, where media outlets report that she's taking a weeklong course on gunshot restoration. Source
  • Will Smith, Jessica Chastain join Cannes Film Festival jury

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Will Smith, Jessica Chastain and Italian director Paolo Sorrentino are joining the jury for the 70th Cannes Film Festival. Festival organizers announced the jury lineup Tuesday. Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar was previously announced as the jury president. Source
  • ‘Bachelor’ star Chris Soules jailed after deadly Iowa crash

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    IOWA CITY, Iowa — Former “The Bachelor” star Chris Soules was arrested early Tuesday, accused of fleeing the scene of a deadly crash on a highway a few miles from his northern Iowa farm. The Iowa State Patrol reports that a pickup truck rear-ended a tractor in Aurora at around 8:20 p.m. Source
  • Beyonce to fund scholarships for black women at 4 schools

    Entertainment CTV News
    Beyonce is marking the anniversary of her album "Lemonade" by announcing scholarships for black women to attend selected colleges. The singer announced that her Formation Scholars Award will go to a single black woman student at four schools. Source
  • 'Completely stunned': Faye Dunaway breaks silence on Oscar envelope snafu

    Entertainment CBC News
    Actress Faye Dunaway says she thought co-presenter Warren Beatty was joking when he paused before showing her the envelope that should have contained the Oscar's best picture winner, thinking he was stalling for effect. Dunaway told the story to Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News, speaking out for the first time since the snafu rocked Hollywood during February's Oscars. Source