“Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people,” they say, so when one strives to leave both, we ought to be grateful. It’s not so long ago when I tried to pursue a career in dance myself but didn’t find enough examples to argue a case that something good could come out of a female dancer. Every genre needs a lead, and so as we celebrate women’s month let us take a moment to celebrate a female who I believe is one for hip hop dance in Zimbabwe. In this article we feature Yeukai Chandiposha who, after perusing dance with not so many female role models made a choice to step up and be one herself. We sure wouldn’t mention female dancers in hip hop and leave out the ROL’X vixen who matched up with the gents in the team would we?
Yeukai Yvone Chandiposha is a NAMA Award winning dancer, choreographer, cum theatrical director. Known mainly for dance, she started directing on Bongile: We Are, a theatre production which immediately scooped her a NAMA award in March 2020 for the Outstanding Theatre Production 2019, starring three of Zimbabwe’s finest music artists: Gemma, Tahle We Dzinza, and Hope Masike. Her hope is to “professionalize dance, making it a sustainable career and to catch the little arrows young.”
We were surprised to hear that for Yeukai, dance was not the initial career choice. In fact, as a teen, the lady we see conquering the stage now used to be embarrassed about her dancing enough to avoid the stage to escape being made fun of at school. Having been introduced to dance by “For One Reason Dance Ministry” during high school years at Midlands Christian College, this is how she describes the beginning of her journey.
“I literally heard the audible voice of God ask me to dance at the age of 17 and I knew it was important. Since then, my view of dancing for a long time was a spiritual experience within the four walls of the church, but God obviously had a different idea. With more exposure (in a new city and with a new crew), came income and funds for transport, food and accommodation and later allowances before we actually started getting paid for our dancing.”
From high school, she went straight to college to pursue higher education in Library and Information Science. Things turned around for her as ROL’X, a dance ministry was formed by Yeukai and Sean Mambwere as co-founders. ROL’X was her home crew for over ten years and so the hip hop queen had no ambitions of branching out to be a solo dancer. She believed in “growing together as a crew”, even after being singled out often mainly because of the demand for female dancers for female related programs. One highlight solo gig for the female dancer was in the United States in 2010.
ROL’X specialized in performances, competitions and social responsibility programs. The team worked with Nqobile Munzara on her HIV program, Culture Shock in Bulawayo, and was the first dance crew that Jibilika worked with to launch Step Up 2 HIV. They were also part of the epic “Singing with the Angels” tour with Bonnie Deuschle, and 116 TOUR with the 116 Clique , in Botswana, Zambia and Harare. Eventually, they got to do their own tours, getting invited to annually perform in Zambia at Alliance 3:14’s Christian concert, Resurrection Truth Dance Project. Other engagements worth mentioning include teaching Hip Hop at DFC now Afrikera Dance Theatre Hub, HIFA performances and wedding steps. A major big break for her was to choreograph Bona Mugabe’s wedding along with Edric Godzongere.
Yeukai admitted that even though she loves dancing, it wasn’t always rosy days and there were times one needed to put in some real effort to thrive. “I didn’t like going for practice with ROL’X on Tuesdays because it involved a 10km run. It was very hard for me especially in the hot months, but the boys were very encouraging and took turns to wait for me along the track.” She mentioned this and added that HIFA rehearsals were intense, especially when doing the opening show and sometimes even harder when dancing out of your style.
Her being a woman didn’t make it any easier as a girl child tends to have to deal with a lot of more responsibilities than the male counterparts. For Yeukai, getting married changed people’s perception of her as an artist. “There is a time people would call my husband, who was also a dancer at the time, to check for my availability as if I didn’t have my own CV. It was a weird time for me and it felt like people decided I wasn’t a dancer anymore.” Good thing the same grace that ushered her into this creative journey was there to direct her further. This and injuries called for advancement into different art forms to ensure relevance in the industry. In her own words she revealed,
“My life experiences have shaped my career to where I am today. I have had major injuries on my ankle, right knee and a lower back. With each injury came discovery of a new layer of myself to become relevant to the industry in the new state. My experience in the industry contributed to me winning an award for directing a NAMA Award winning theatre production Bongile: We Are. Besides the injuries, the dynamics changed also because of the industry, and the fact that we are getting older.”
Yeukai has created a dance program called Little Arrows Dance Programme, and wrote a teaching curriculum for ECD dance education. She described Little Arrows Dance program as having been as fulfilling, perhaps even more than being on the world stage because of her passion for children. “I believe it’s best to teach them in their ECD and pre-pubescent years before they can learn from the commercial televised kind of dance.” She said.
Yeukai sees the Little Arrows Dance program growing beyond just an extracurricular activity. She aims to develop it into but a well-established co-curricular tool that schools can adopt to assist children in memorizing and grasping other subjects. “In the next 5 years I would like to see Little Arrows Dance program grow into some established co-curricular tool that schools will use in teaching children to fortify what they learn academically.”
Her experience in the dance industry has had Yeuka describe the dance industry as being fragmented by genre and geography. “We have traditional dance, Hip Hop and Ballet communities with different gigs, competitions, exams, and sponsors. For example Chibuku is a big supporter of traditional dance. The Industry also is fragmented by geography. I remember that it took ROL’X moving to Harare to start making money. I think this is because international shows generally look for talent in Harare and that will be it unless someone knows and mentions artists from the other cities. People seem to come and work with those in the big city probably due to the costs associated with getting all cities on board for the inclusiveness we would like.” She also suggested that the private school community had more opportunities and exposure to the Arts than the public and mission schools with very little sponsorship.
We closed our interview with her by getting some personal insights on the dance industry in Zimbabwe, “There is need for a representative body that favours all genres.” alleged Yeukai. She went on to explain how previous bodies were in favour of specific genres and not necessarily beneficial to everyone in the industry. This a problem recognised by most dancers hence less than 50 percent of dancers are registered to any of the available bodies (based on a research Jibilika did in Harare early this year). Yeukai mentioned the lack of recognition on a national level from the relevant authorities for dancers representing Zimbabwe in other countries with reference to a time that ROL’X qualified to represent Zimbabwe at HHI (Hip-Hop International), (one of the largest and most respected dance organisations in the world) in Las Vegas.
We look forward to seeing more of the new director’s creativity in the coming near future with maybe an award worthy theatrical story written and directed by yours truly. She also plans to start a hub that focuses on the capacitating of adult dancers with professionalism and grooming skills. “I would also love to start a hub, one that equips adult dancers to be professional and groom them to start their dance careers on the right path.” Her desire is to ensure pay checks for dancers that allow for sustainability and the professionalization of dance. “We’d have a studio, employ dancers, pay a decent salary and be active in the different cities. It’s my desire that dancers earn good wages through the program and all my other projects even, as they are on their way to the world stage. This will also give them some teaching skills that can be relevant in the future.” She said, and further emphasized willingness to learn, administration, contract drafting, reading, and character to be important for someone to go far with their dance skills.