The power of expressive dancing

The power of expressive dancing

Covid-19 as a source of inspiration?

Ugandan dancer and entrepreneur Nduhira Ismail Athilai inspires with his performance and describes the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural and arts scene.



Capital: Kampala
Languages: more than 50 spoken languages; English and Swahili are the official languages
Population: approx. 43 million

Did you know?

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cultural and arts scene can be felt all around the globe. Museums, theatres, and monuments have been closed down; live performances, festivals and exhibitions are not taking place anymore. A huge industry employing millions of people worldwide is at risk. Therefore, many artists and performers are using social media and the internet to make the best of the situation.

It is against this background that Ugandan creative dance artist and entrepreneur Nduhira Ismail Athilai came up with the idea of a dance response to the pandemic. We had the pleasure to conduct an interview with him to gain first-hand insights on the project and to learn more about the situation in Uganda. But first have a look and be inspired:

About the Artist

In order to create a multi-faceted performance experience, Athilai combines African traditional and experimental movements (Wuvaga) with urban dance styles such as hip-hop and breakdancing as well as contemporary and jazz dance. With every performance he is either telling a story or sharing an important message. He employs a biographical approach with the ultimate aim of accomplishing a positive change in society. Besides choreographing and performing, he also gives dancing classes and monthly workshops in different communities in Uganda to pursue his passion for sharing experiences and knowledge. His motivation stems from the participants themselves:

I’m really so much inspired by the people, their movements, their social way of living in their communities. I have learnt so much from them.

Nduhira Ismail Athilai

Moreover, he founded a community-based dance project called Wuvaga Dance Movement. The word Wuvaga can be translated as ‘Get ready’. The Kampala-based project offers a platform for a creative exchange in dance and arts as well as an opportunity to reflect upon socio-political topics.

Nduhira Ismail Athilai, Source: Nduhira Ismail Athilai

Movement Beyond Borders

The idea of the video emerged in the context of a short movie project. South African founder of Imvula Pula Dance Company, Paul Modjadji, reached out to Nduhira Athilai to invite him to participate in the Movement Beyond Borders Africa Documentary Series. The 18-minutes documentary portraits heart-warming performances and stories of 10 dancers from 6 African countries. Collectively they reflect on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on their lives, livelihood, art and communities. The dancers share insights about the challenges they are facing, among others the loss of their jobs and income, lack of inspiration and a feeling of uncertainty. On the other hand, they share positive lessons such as appreciating the small things in life, regaining spiritual strength and the hope for healing and transformation. If you’ve become interested in the project, feel free to watch the whole documentary on YouTube.

Athilai during a dance performance, Source: Nduhira Ismail Athilai
Tweyambe – Let’s help ourselves

Besides being an artist and entrepreneur, Athilai also supports people in need. With the pandemic affecting many marginalized people in Uganda, he stepped up to initiate a relief project called Tweyambe. The Lugandan word Tweyambe can be translated as ‚Let’s help ourselves‘, which was precisely the aim of the initiative. Tweyambe managed to supply 260 vulnerable families and individuals in different marginalized communities in Kampala with emergency food and care packages. Unfortunately, the lack of income and tight lockdown measures led to the failure of the movement.

Impacts of Covid-19 on the cultural and arts scene in Uganda

Ever since the lockdown proclaimed by president Museveni on 18th March, hundreds of artists and arts organizations in Uganda are facing an unprecedented loss of livelihood and incomes. While the lockdown only lasted for 31 days, the resulting measures put in place to contain the virus have lasting repercussions on the Ugandan art scene. Nearly all the country’s major events including concerts, theatre shows, live shows, festivals, exhibitions, and outdoor events have been cancelled in order to control the spread of COVID-19 and to promote social distancing. Slowly by slowly the situation is getting better: some public places have opened again, and a few events are taking place, however only on a small scale. The Creative Industry relies on its ability to bring people together in mass. Generating income from performing, teaching, collaborating and organizing events allows artists and artists’ organizations to sustain themselves and their livelihood.

 The cultural and arts sector in Uganda is one of the sectors most hit economically and socially. Many people have lost their jobs, Athilai being one of them: “I myself lost my job and I also feel like losing my career… sometimes it feels like things will never come to normal again. But 2020 brought so many lessons, and the most profound for me has been learning to surrender and understanding that some things are beyond human control and command. Sometimes learn to bow in human humility. To stiffen, to resist and to fight is to hurt yourself.”

But 2020 brought so many lessons, and the most profound for me has been learning to surrender and understanding that some things are beyond human control and command. Sometimes learn to bow in human humility.

Nduhira Ismail Athilai

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