Monday, April 20, the world celebrated the International
Dance Day.The day is set aside to recognise those who value the art of dance, and serves as wake-up call to nations that still do not understand the impact dance has on people, as well as it potential for economic growth. Nigeria falls among those nations.
Dance artistes, Liadi Adedayo, and Jemimah Angulu, say the Nigerian government neither values nor support the dance industry.
This, they note, is in spite of dance's contribution in the promotion of a good image of the country abroad; creation of jobs and foreign direct investment through annual festivals, workshops, and multi-cultural performances; the engagement of youths off the streets, as well its health and emotional benefits to Nigerians.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Books & Art, veteran dancer of international repute, and outgoing president of the Guild of Nigerian Dancers (GOND), Liadi Adedayo, says despite government's claims of economic diversification via culture, the lack of funding, or support for the creative and dance industry indicates otherwise.
Dancers, he avers, are left begging for crumbs.
"Government has not been able to do any one thing for us (dancers). The Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture, and the Council for Arts and Culture are not doing as much as they should to support culture."
"Dance has impacted the nation greatly and in many ways. Dance creatives are doing so much, many working as private organisations, others in councils for arts and culture.
"However, not everyone must or will work for government, and that doesn't mean government can't support them, or make us keep begging for support," decries the dance artiste, who has been teaching, dancing and choreographing dance for the past 30 years.
Acquainted with diverse culture administrations from his travels, studies, and performances in over 60 countries, Nigerian universities and organisations, the artiste states that many African countries, budget and allocate annual subventions for professional and registered dance companies.
"Annual subventions always come from the federal government to the Arts and Culture ministries, down to states Arts department, to the local government. The local government delivers the subventions to dance companies and other registered Arts organisations. The subventions are strictly for Arts organisations to manage their programmes and to sustain the indigenous creative art organisations."
"Nigerian government pretends to value the traditional African culture, but it doesn't help in anyway in its preservation or promotion. I believe that the contemporary (the new, present dance practices) exists because of the traditional (our cultural heritage and dances). Therefore, the old must be valued, even better than the new, because the new can't exist without the old. Also, as cultures evolve, we cannot preserve the old in its wholesome original state, but that isn't a bad thing. If we don't support our culture, both old and new, and provide for research on ways to make it better, or take it to the next level, we will simply continue to imitate," Adedayo warns.
In foreign climes, dance institutes are established and supported by individuals, organisations and governments. Countries fund and campaign for their tourist sites, near-extinct cultures and their practitioners to attain UNESCO's tangible and intangible heritage titles. With the exception of a few physical sites attaining World Heritage status, Nigeria, seems to do nothing to actively promote her over 200 distinct cultures to the globe.
Adedayo believes governments and Nigerians' attitude to dance stems from the perception of dance as a form of entertainment only, rather than the lack of awareness of the industry's positive impact on the country.
"Our accomplishments are out there for the world to see. To illustrate, in 2003, Nigerian dance artistes did the country proud, placing first position in Africa, at the Dance and Choreography Competition in Sanga 3rd Edition, and were interviewed on CNN. We didn't get so much as an appreciative handshake from the government for that," recounts Adedayo who was a part of the team.
He adds that while Nigerians' perception of dance is changing, they remain unappreciative of the skills and efforts involved.
Adedayo, who is the creator and choreographer of the music video, Olori Oko, and commercials as, Top of the World Smile ( for Malta Guinness), Always No Stain No Check Check, Always Good To Go, and Always No Check No Stain Bed, for All Africa TV, a South African organisation, recalls being offered N150, 000 by a Nigerian organisation, to create similar quality commercial.
"Nigerian manufacturers oftentimes are not willing to pay for the value. People simply presume and say, "Isn't it just dance. Anybody can dance." Well yes, everyone can dance, but I am not a dancer. I am a dance artiste. I create and choreograph dance. A dance artiste is different from a dancer," he clarifies.
Dancepreneur, founder and director of the Krump Dance Studio, Abuja, Jemimah Angulu, believes the peculiarities, and highly creative nature of dance, particularly contemporary dance, do not readily associate it as "investment-worthy". despite the growing advertisement, sponsorship and collaborations with dancers.
Angulu, a professional dancer for the past 15 years and a dancepreneur for 10 of those years, is also the recipient of the French Ministry of Culture's 2019 "Itinéraires Cultures" for promoting "Art In Public Spaces".
She recommended that dancers focus on becoming social influencers, brand names and 'crowd pullers' to gain as much edge in sponsorships and commercials as the music industry.
"The average man on the street and those in authority, only listen to numbers - and as long as we don't have the numbers, we can't call that attention. Growth is qualified or quantified in numbers, so we need to concentrate as dancers and artistes on things that will rake in people in their numbers, once that is accomplished, things will change. It is not about the impact, but the numbers,"
Addressing the way forward for dance, Adedayo commends the efforts of dancers so far without the aid of government. Efforts, he affirms, have begun changing Nigerians' perception of dance as a profession rather than leisure, with parents encouraging their children's pursuit of dance careers.
However, he stressed that, "No culture can develop exponentially without its government's support."
"Governments of countries like the USA, and South Korea, pump lots of money in promoting their culture, as seen in the spread of K-Pop Music and Dance. But can you imagine the amount they pump into the preservation of their heritage? It is even more than they do their contemporary art? They fund research and studies to enhance it. Abroad, they value our culture and cultural practitioners more. We don't value our culture."
He also called for a united voice and front from dancers in the country, under the sole dance body recognised by government, GOND.
"Many dancers do not care about the guild, but only come to it, because they need recommendations to travel out the country. They only come to the guild when they need it, but not in fighting for the good of the profession. The day Nigerian dancers deem it necessary to be part of and support GOND in the fight for a place for dance in Nigeria, it will be the dawn of a new era."
Although, recognising the benefit of an association, "one voice", Angulu, believes in a more practical approach, knowing that in the advent of social media, people will and are deploying such tools in attaining social influence, without associations as GOND.
While there is the danger of "valueless influencers" arising from the advent of the internet and access to social media, Angulu highlights GOND's inclusion of both traditional and contemporary dancers, and its focus on the education of dance practitioners in the profession as opposed to emphasis on membership as the solution.
GOND's recent strategy as a support system for dancers, she reiterates, suits today's internet-era.
"The rules have changed. Guilds cannot function the way they used to. You find there are a lot of famous people that know nothing, and don't care about a lot of things. GOND, however, is extending its functions to ensure all dancers are connected. It's ensuring all dancers are given information and opportunities by providing workshops that teach dancers things about the dance profession, not just the association, to ensure these people don't mess up the industry."
Consistency and original narratives, she adds, will add to a greater future for the dance industry. "We need to own our different stories and narratives. The future is what we make of it. We need to keep creating. If we keep creating, we will keep getting better, and draw the crowd," urged Angulu.