THE BATTLE TO DANCE
THE BATTLE TO DANCE – The Legend of Dancers and Dance Groups like GGB Battling for Survival in the Nigerian Entertainment Industry.
She’d been stalking me on social media for over two months; she had given me more than enough reasons to hear her out. She desired for me to help put in some word about her dance career and provide links with some of the professional dancers she had seen on television and also read their editorials on Mystreetz magazine. This dream of hers keeps her up late at nights.
“My education is key for me, and I am on track with it. But I love dancing and I have worked with several groups to perfect my act. Now I want to move a notch higher and take it more professionally. My parents do not encourage this passion of mine to say the least, they do not see it as something worthwhile but I want to do it and do well at it not just to prove them wrong but to make them proud.”
As she narrates her story to me on the phone, I could feel the conviction and desire in her voice. She spoke to me not just once, but many times until she was convinced I could feel the burning pain in her heart. Her battle to become a dancer, the will to transform inbuilt abilities into personal achievement and fulfillment is one I could relate with. On my journey as a journalist, this lady’s story is synonymous to most of the successful dancers and dance groups I have met. They have battled family and societal perception in order to forge ahead to create an industry from which several dancers and dance groups are functioning today. Despite the fact that dance is rooted deeply in our environment and is as important as music is to the wellbeing of humans, it’s puzzling why the dance industry is not as respected, profitable and regulated as other sector of the entertainment industry. Dance has always been one of the most important means of communication in the history of humanity. Depending on which part of the world you belong, dance has been used over the years as a means of celebration, show of strength and exchange of culture and values. In the early days in Nigeria, the regions were respected for the uniqueness of their various dance groups. Whether it’s celebratory, energizing, cathartic, funny, or just plain embarrassing, dance is one of the best art forms for expression. People gyrate in order to celebrate, commemorate or even to prepare for some rituals. Every country also knows the importance of dance; they set up dance troops as a show of unity. To be a member of a traditional dance group or national dance troop was a big deal for members and a certification of how special each of them are. These groups created opportunities for members to show off at special times of celebration and visit places their families and peers could only dream of. With the advent of technology and civilization, cultural exchange triggered the consumption of various music sounds and influences. The country is not just left with traditional dancers, disco came in but none of these sounds and dance were as consuming as hip-hop.
Innovation and accessibility to more appliances for a larger number of people inspired the rate at which hip-hop music and dancers began to spread. While the traditional musicians became rebels and doomsayers for hip-hop influenced music, traditional dance groups and troops came to a crossroad. Those that were not young at heart enough to make the switch were stuck with the old ways while those who knew the future is inevitable quickly crossed over. Arguably, this new order in the society made the old guns and parents to basically see any child that either wants to choose any profession that came in with recent technological civilization e.g. photography, deejaying, singing and dancing as a bad egg in the family. But despite these, just like we had more young ones venturing into the music industry, dance groups began to spring forth. The likes of Sons of Davide (SOD), Alien Nation in OAU Ife, Factor 493 in UI, GP in UNAAB, Royal Dancers in Ibadan, Explicit which came out from Royal Dancers in Ibadan, Ambassage in OAU Ife, R-crew to name just a few became active. In no distant time, with more companies realizing the cult followership that dance groups attracted, they knew they did not need a rocket scientist’s advise to tap into that market for brand equity. Dance competitions like Malta Guinness Street Dance debuted. Celebrity dancers and choreographers like Wale Rubber and Kaffy shone bright like diamonds during the several years of such shows churning out more dance groups. By that time, an industry for dancers did not just come into existence but was certified by corporate bodies.
As the music industry continued to grow, indirectly, it was creating a need for dancers for artistes’ performances and video shoots, then more young people came into the folds to fill the vacuum. Among the best then was Micheal who created DNMT. Kaffy also churned out more dance crews and groups providing services for various artistes up till date. Another competition that also contributed massively to the dance industry is Maltina Dance All.
Today like never before, with telecommunication companies basically targeting a large young audience by activating events near or inside campuses, with liquor brands activating events in clubs and artistes shooting videos and performing all over the country, the need for dancers is unprecedented. In order to survive, most dance groups have also expanded their résumés by providing services as hip-hop models/ vixens. Some of the most respected dance groups today are also making income by creating dance routines to artistes’ songs and posting it on various social media platforms for their huge followers. The Battle to Dance – the legend of dancers and dance groups battling for survival is interesting and editorial friendly. In the process of writing this story, I spoke with several dancers and groups to get to know more about them and get their perspective on several issues relating to the dance industry.
One of the trendiest dance groups in today’s industry is GGB. Their cult followership on social media is hugely as a result of the large volume of music videos they have appeared in. GGB is an acronym for Girls Got Bold. The trio of dancers and choreographers was founded in 2014 and run by Roseline Afije(Liquorose), Ifeoma Efiokwu(E4ma) and Emmanuella Odiley (Ellaley). The group was formed with the aim of diversifying in all aspects of their individual talents. They started their professional careers as individual dancers, with E4ma being a semi-finalist at the Malta Guinness Street Dance contest and the Maltina Dance All Family Contest, while Ellaley and Liquorose started appearing in music videos to hone their skills and meet other dancers/choreographers. After appearing individually in well over 30 music videos, performing alongside various artistes around Nigeria, participating in several dance contests and TV commercials, they came together to form the GGB Dance Crew. Their major aim is to create progressive platforms for the dance industry.
“We hope to inspire and encourage young women, and ultimately every youth out there to be bold enough to pursue and achieve their dreams” – the trio told me.
To begin to count the numbers of video these ladies have featured on will be suicidal. These ladies are not just masters in the art of dancing but also double as actors, stylists and make up gurus. When they are contracted as the group, they are effortless and their individual gigs also leaves one breathless. In MARCH 2014, history was made as they debuted with a single where they featured Ketchup and Pasha on a song titled ‘Disco’. The project was produced by Big Foot, titled DISCO, with the visuals by Tosin Igho. The project was a milestone and received lots of positive reviews. Sometime ago, I sat with the girls to get their views on the industry.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE INDUSTRY FOR DANCERS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS IN NIGERIA?
The Industry for dancers and choreographers is yet to receive the proper recognition it deserves. As one of the most important elements of showbiz, we are of the opinion that more should be done for us. The perception towards our industry need a 360 degrees turn around. We are battling on many fronts to survive. We don’t have enough dance facilities in Nigeria; we have very limited numbers of dance studios in the country. Even the few, seldom do we have those properly equipped with good facilities; so that makes it difficult for us to achieve a lot. Another difficulty is the fact that there aren’t enough platforms that encourage dancing as a brand but despite all these setbacks, we have survived for several years entertaining and educating with so many of our projects to teach people how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The road has been tough but interesting. It took music, photography and deejaying a while to pull through; dancers and choreographers will continue to work till we eventually make it through. Despite the limitations we can still say that the dance industry has grown to an extent. We now have control on how we want to be paid. Dancers now grace the red carpets, get invited for media interviews and award shows; dancers now get nominated for awards. It’s a big plus.
Thanks to SPAN, Kaffy, DNMT and a lot others, who unarguably paved the way for dancers in Nigeria. We learned on that platform and used that as a stepping stone for our own success story. Also, working with a professional management team has been of great value; we have all grown individually and as a team.
KAFAYAT AND AWANJO
Kafayat and her Awanjo team are a breath of fresh air. They are like a one stop shop for individual dancers, group dancers and choreographers and hip-hop models.
“AWANJO likes to be described as a family of the most talented dancers on a quest to fearlessly explore the depths of our imagination, artistic purpose and to dominate the dance industry. With over 28 official members and still growing hailing from different parts of Nigeria, we have successfully attained the right to say you cannot watch Nigerian music videos and advertisements in a day and not experience Awanjo one way or the other” – Azeez Kafayat Folake.
AWANJO was formed by Azeez Kafayat Folake in May 2015 when the CEO assembled her friends in the dance industry to join the movement. AWANJO is known for their consistency, versatility, creativity and delivery in dance, acting, directing, vixen-ing and modeling. They basically love to explore different styles of dance, from HIP HOP to COMMERCIAL DANCE to AFRO BEAT without limitations and in turn promote the Nigerian culture across the world. They have featured in over 150 music videos and still counting, just to mention a few. I exchanged conversation with Kafayat Folake on the state of the industry:
YOUR VIEW ON THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY FOR DANCERS IN THIS COUNTRY?
The state of the industry for dancers is ill structured and most times unfair to dancers. There is still much work to be done, structures and things that have to be put in place to ensure dancers are well catered for, paid well and promptly. It’s funny to know that I started dancing for many events, shows and artistes without the intention of getting paid just because of the passion I have for dance. The dance industry in Nigeria is currently growing and developing. Now we have more people aspiring to be dancers. Thank God for the likes of Micheal DNMT, Kaffy, Wale Rubber, Ms Bunmi, Ms Lovett, Mr. Bimbo, Mr. Ice, Myself, Don Flex and other hardworking choreographers and dancers that have proven that one can be successful as a choreographer/dancer.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS FOR DANCERS IN NIGERIA?
The limitations would be a lack of proper regulatory body to coordinate and guide dancers and dancing in the country. Most Nigerian dancers are self taught, there are no schools or institutions that specialize in dance as an art, a platform needs to be created where at the age of 10 a child can start taking dance classes. Dancers need these. The industry and economy doesn’t value the services of dance artistes, thankfully things are getting better. Also, I think the perception of people about dancers needs to change.
WHAT IS YOUR ASPIRATION FOR THE INDUSTRY IN THE NEAREST FUTURE?
I would love to see an industry that young ones really want to come into; an industry that parents are proud to say their children belong to, an industry where you belong and you’re respected and rich. I would also love to see that dance as an art becomes a respected force that stands on its own. Imagine a dance company hosting a dance concert, where the sole performing acts are dancers delivering world-class routines. It would be amazing.
NONSO (DON FLEXX)
If there’s ever anyone whose dance career is more or less a representation of how far the dance industry has come in Nigeria, the person is definitely Asobe Nonso Cajetan popularly known in the industry as Don Flexx. This native of Imo State is among the dancers that are indirectly the poster child of the dance industry in Nigeria for over one decade. From a chance to come up with dance routines in 3 days to becoming part of the crew and a year later becoming PSquare’s choreographer – the most respected music dance duo in Africa, Nonso is definitely one that has seen it all.
“My first time on stage was 2003 with my first ever dance group “IGNYTE”. We performed at a talent hunt in church and then we came first after the whole experience. Most of our performances recognition can be referenced to institutional beauty pageants. We also performed at the 2006 Basketball Premier Tour League organized by Zain formerly known as Celtel. My journey in the industry goes way back with Ruggedman. I met him in 2003 after participating as one of the main dancers in MTN YELLOW FESTIVAL alongside Kaffy, where we were responsible for creating choreographed routines for most of the African artistes that came to perform at the event. It was from the event that I became RUGGEDMAN’s official choreographer/ dancer/b-boy. In my three years of working with RUGGEDMAN, I achieved loads like; touring 8 campuses at the 2004 Glo campus storm, countless of media awards performances, to include the 2004 AMEN award he won. My work also speaks for itself in his 3 popular videos back then i.e. BARAJE, BIG BROS and ROCK WITH ME featuring FAZE. My first ever international exposure was with him in UK early 2006. I was also involved with Nigerian Breweries STAR MEGA JAMZ where we performed alongside international acts like Wyclef, Usher, Shaggy, L.L Cool J, Jarule, 50 Cent, Kelvin Lyttle, the list is endless” – Nonso.
In 2008, his group competed at the Malta Guinness Street Dance competition. Out of 135 groups that participated at the competition in Lagos, his team came 1st to represent Lagos at the regional finals where they ended up 3rd. That same year, he participated in the 2008 Channel O Dance Africa Audition held in Lagos Nigeria as one of the judges to eliminate and get worthy representatives to go and represent Nigeria in South Africa. 2015, alongside Kaffy, he participated as one of the Judges at the season one of DANCE WITH PETER.
“My views about Dancers and Choreographers in the entertainment industry are simple and evidently visible. We are credibly part of a great impact that can not be ignored/deprived from the entertainment industry. Dance/Choreography act is an exceptional God given art that is used to ignite, sparkle and blossom any atmosphere that has to do with entertainment and showbiz. However, the earlier dancers know this and accept this to a level of branding themselves to attain respect and more appreciation from other affiliated entertainment bodies, the better and best for them. They don’t need to be eager to do Jobs for free or get peanuts just because of fame without knowing their worth towards the delivery of what is at hand. We must have the GUTS to turn down unworthy offers. This is why I stressed on branding. If a dancer has a total package for business minded purposes, artistes or show promoters wouldn’t treat them lesser. For crying out loud with the level of our Professional Ethics in this current era, I can comfortably say we’ve come to the level of being recognized for endorsements and even becoming great ambassadors to reckon with. If Musicians, Actors, even Comedians and Disc Jockies (DJs) can be recognized, for Christ’s sake, why not great Dancers/Choreographers too???
MICHEAL IGBELABO & DNMT
Michael Igbelabo the founder of DNMT is to the dance industry what 2Baba is to the music industry. He’s one of the few that moves mountains and weathers the storm to make sure dancers are properly represented and heard. Arguably, in August 2013 (the year DMNT birthed), Michael could be said to have drafted the blueprint for the urban dance industry today. Apart from Wale Rubber who came out from Spirit Of Davide, some of the respected dancers today like Kaffy were one time members of DNMT. Michael and his DNMT have been at the forefront setting milestones in the dance industry.
“DNMT (dance na the main thing) has been able to shoot the very first dance music video to be shown on musical TV stations, just like artistes do. Having to go to the studio to work with a producer and get to feature an artiste just as the famous DJs do e.g. DJ XCLUSIVE FT WIZKID, so too we have ours. DNMT FT CAMEEY produced by CHOPSTICKS and DNMT FT APPAUSE produced by TEEY MIX .We are hoping to feature A-list artistes soon. There’s so much excitement in this industry, dance crews like Kaffy and the Imagnito Dance Academy have also been innovative with their work out and weight loss CDs and DVDs.
“GGB and AWANJO have taken musical videos to another exciting level, even with online dance classes and videos. Dance has come a long way and has grown wider and better in this country. Dancers now earn more money on stage and on set for videos than ever before; it’s much more favorable than it used to be. Today we are experiencing a huge number of dancers and dance groups in Nigeria. Most of them are actually doing well and making the industry proud” – Micheal Igbelabo.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFICULTIES FACED BY DANCERS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS IN NIGERIA?
First things first is the issue of finance, then lack of rehearsal venues, underpayment, etc. There are so many activations created for musicians but one can’t say the same for dancers e.g. In a year you get to hear of a lot of support for the movie and music industry. You hear of shows like PROJECT FAME, THE VOICE, COKE STUDIO, NIGERIA GOT TALENT but you get to find out that in a year only one or none is for the dance industry.
Words by Sesan Adeniji