Goma — In a country dominated by hip-hop and rumba, contemporary dance is not a natural choice for an professional aspiring dancer. In fact, some think that the genre - often described as an unstructured and liberated version of classical dance - has little to do with Congolese culture. Twin brothers Chiku and Chito Lwambo from Goma are proving that wrong. And with every twist and turn, the choreographers are also condemning the social ills around them.
"Hip-hop is a power game and, in a region where everything is about power, it is not interesting. What is interesting about contemporary dance is the way it tells stories. We can make up new moves," explains Chiku.
The Lwambo brothers started dancing at age seventeen, relatively late. They began by learning from fellow dancers in the area and fell in love with the art straightaway.
For four years, the twins worked hard to get good at the art. They trained at Goma's Yolé!Africa cultural centre, as well as in Kigali, where renowned dance experts like Walter Hull often give master classes.
In 2009, they finally gave their creativity free rein and got the chance to stage their own shows. They founded the Busara Dance Company. Today, there are five permanent dancers. They often perform in Rwanda and Uganda, where there's a greater appreciation for contemporary dance than in the DRC.
Busara Dance Company's choreographies span a variety of themes, often addressing sensitive issues in Congolese society. Corruption, child soldiers and the coexistence of different peoples within a community are all topics they have addressed.
As Chito puts it: "We try to speak to the society, hoping to change mindsets. The more we perform the more people seem to understand the message we are trying to communicate."
The dancers are of the same mind. "In our society, people who speak out are often strangled and people who write are prosecuted," says Rodrigue, one of the company's members, "so I wanted to pass my message through moves, through dance."
What's your story?
The company is currently rehearsing for 'C'est quoi ton histoire' ('What's your story'), a play about child soldiers.
After over 15 years of quasi-permanent war, the eastern DRC is among regions in the world with the highest concentration of former child soldiers. Children under age 15 remain an integral part of the troops of many armed groups present in the region today.
Through their choreography, the Busara dancers try to express - and denounce - the suffering of these children.
"When I see children younger than me being forcefully recruited as soldiers, I am deeply moved. We must denounce it in our dance, so that children's rights are acknowledged and respected," says Rodrigue.
Their rehearsals take place on a smooth piece of concrete in the middle of a yard. There's no music because they lack electricity, they lack batteries for a portable radio and they lack funds to buy either.
The moves, which are soft and almost not-there at the performance's start, become more and more aggressive as the dancers, embodying children, become enrolled and trained for war.
First, armed groups are represented by close ranks, with straight faces and rifles on shoulders. The formations then break, leaving behind lost individuals. Violently pushing one another, they are unable to integrate into the group - interpretable as Congolese society.
The moves might not always be perfectly executed and the dancers might not always be at the same technical level, but the passion that drives them is definitely real. The intensity of the performance is quite captivating.
A recent rehearsal ends at sunset, leaving the dancers wrapped in a gentle golden light. The play will be performed in a few weeks at the Salaam Kivu Film Festival for a seasoned audience that grows every year.