The Sunday Mail
DANCING has always been a major element of Zimbabwean culture and will remain so for centuries to come.
Despite its historical and cultural relevance, dancing has failed to really take off as a profession. There are limited opportunities for dancers locally and the audience is yet to really appreciate it as a standalone form of entertainment rather, it is seen as back-up for music outfits.
The year 2007 saw the birth of a movement that gave young Zimbabwean dancers an opportunity to shine both on the local and international stage. The vision by Plot Mhako, then a young stores clerk at Fidelity Printers, gave life to the Jibilika Dance Festival, an initiative that aims at promoting the dance industry while at the same time influencing social and cultural growth.
The festival involves dancers and dance groups competing from provincial levels to the national finals where the ultimate winner earns the bragging rights of being the best dancer in Zimbabwe. Add to that a cash prize plus numerous other opportunities.
Since inception, this annual festival has grown and this year’s edition is even bigger with the organisers holding preliminaries in every province across the country.
The finals will be held in Mutare on August 26 and 27 at Courtauld Theatre and several other venues around the city.
Running under the theme, “Empowered” – preliminaries for the dance contest have already started with the first round having been held in Masvingo on April 2.
Other preliminaries were held in Gweru, Harare and Mutare. The next round is set for this Saturday in Glendale, Mashonaland Central.
Jibilika founder Plot Mhako says all he wants is to give opportunities to dancers from every province in the country.
“This year we are trying to get everyone involved, so we will be holding preliminary rounds in areas we have been leaving out in previous editions. For example, we will be doing preliminaries in areas like Gwanda, Hwange, Kadoma, Marondera and Chitungwiza just to name a few, because in previous editions dancers in these areas were being left out,” said Mhako.
Having hosted the competition’s finals in Harare for the greater part of the festival’s lifespan, last year the organisers saw it fit to host the spectacle in Bulawayo.
“Our programming has been growing bigger and this year we will be holding our finals outside Harare for the second time, which I think is good for the growth of the festival.”
Mhako said since the beginning, the idea has been to promote dance talent, which does not receive much exposure in the country.
“When we started Jibilika the motive behind was the realisation of abundant dancing talent, which was lacking a platform for exposure but then the festival later became an institution which brought about other initiatives as well.
“If you look at our theme this year ‘Empowered’, we are looking at empowerment in terms of skills and professional development by giving the dancers more than just a dance platform but also the opportunity to learn the business side of dance. We also want to give these youngsters a voice, enabling them to use their art in expressing themselves.”
Jibilika will also be conducting various workshops where both local and international dance professionals will be invited to share their experience.
“We have a dance choreographer who is coming from Uganda who will be hosting one of the workshops we are organising. We have also invited another choreographer who directed dance in the South African dance film ‘Hear Me Move’, so we are basically looking at real value edition.”
A host of other programmes have also been lined up for the final weekend with the organisers considering individuals who will not be able to pay for the main events.
“This year we have introduced a lot of community outreach programmes, which includes a free show at Sakubva Great Hall giving access to those that can’t afford to pay for the main event to also get the festival experience.
“We have also introduced a Dance Theatre Night as a way of pushing dancers and dance groups beyond their comfort zones where they are just creating small routines but to really create dance pieces that tell our Zimbabwean narrative that we can be able to sell at international platforms.”
Since its inception Jibilika has given hundreds of youths the chance to expose their talent, with a number landing performance contracts both locally and internationally.
In 2009 Jibilika started participating in The Battle of The Year (BOTY), an international dance competition, which has dance crews battling it out at national and continental levels on their way to the world championships.
Zimbabwe hosted the 2011 BOTY Africa in which local dance outfit “House of Stone”, were crowned continental champions but failed to participate at the world finals in France as they missed their flight in Johannesburg.
Plot and his team decided to bring back the original Jibilika Dance Festival in 2012 because the international competition only focused on break dancing, which meant the exclusion of other dance styles.
Some of the groups that are products of Jibilika include Flip Floppers and Rolex Dance Crew among others, who have gone on to dominate the local dance scene. A participant from last year’s edition, Tanaka Lionel Roki, managed to earn a scholarship to study hip-hop in Switzerland, an opportunity that was facilitated by Jibilika. The initiative should be commended for expanding to rural communities as well so as giving everyone a chance to participate.