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

  • This week in reality TV: Team Miley a no-go in 'The Voice' final four

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Team Miley shut out on The Voice, John Legend performs Joe Giudice's song for Teresa and more of what you missed this week 1. And then there were four With just a week before the Season 11 finale of The Voice, the determined Top 8 took the stage to sing, belt and croon for their lives in the competition, as only half of the remaining artists would be making it through the week. Source
  • Survivor's Will says watching his elimination episode was hard

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Senior year in high school is usually the time to work a grueling part-time job to save up for college. But for 18-year-old New Jersey student Will Wahl, he spent a chunk of his senior year on an island in Fiji playing Survivor. Source
  • 'Office Christmas Party' actor TJ Miller arrested, accused of battery

    Entertainment CTV News
    Los Angeles police say actor TJ Miller was arrested early Friday morning after a driver accused him of battery. The arrest of the "Silicon Valley" star came two days before Miller will host the Critics' Choice Awards in Los Angeles. Source
  • Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney donate to wildfire fund

    Entertainment CTV News
    NASHVILLE -- Artists and organizations in Music City are stepping up to help their neighbours after devastating wildfires damaged about 2,500 buildings and caused 14 deaths in the Gatlinburg area. Country star Kenny Chesney and the Country Music Association announced Friday they are collectively donating $500,000 to the Dolly Parton Foundation My People Fund, which was created to provide $1,000 each month to families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the wildfires. Source
  • Docuseries about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine in the works

    Entertainment CTV News
    In the four-part series called "The Defiant Ones," director Allen Hughes explores the relationship between two powerful figures in the music industry over a three-year period. The series looks at how the two men also helped shape some of the most buzz-worthy moments in pop culture in recent years and includes interviews with artists like Bono, Eminem, Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Snoop Dogg and Bruce Springsteen, reports Deadline. Source
  • Iowa court clears way for 'Field of Dreams' baseball complex

    Entertainment CTV News
    DES MOINES, Iowa -- An Iowa Supreme Court ruling Friday cleared the way for a baseball complex at the "Field of Dreams" movie site in Dyersville, as the state's highest court upheld a lower court's decision that the City Council acted properly when it rezoned the property from agricultural to commercial. Source
  • Amy Schumer 'Barbie' trolls need to get a life... pronto

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Quite the brouhaha about Barbie this week. Social media went berserk over news that Amy Schumer has been cast to play Mattel’s most famous doll, with the usual pathetic trolls tossing insults about how Schumer’s appearance makes her entirely wrong for the role. Source
  • Watch the new trailer for 'War for the Planet of the Apes'

    Entertainment CTV News
    Twentieth Century Fox has released a new trailer for the next installment of the Planet of the Apes franchise, which pits the leaders of the apes and humans against each other in an epic face-off. Source
  • Gigi Hadid has Hashimoto’s disease

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Gigi Hadid may be one of the biggest names in fashion, but away from work she also has to live with a secret health condition. Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam’s apple. Source
  • 'Spider-Man: Homecoming': Five things we learned from the first trailer

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    We can’t wait to go to Homecoming. On Thursday night’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the late-night host unveiled the first full-length trailer for next summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, the webslinger’s re-reboot under an unusual partnership between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios. Source