Alice Enonche, professional dancer and actress in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She became captain of the National Dance Troupe and later crossed over to Nollywood., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
‘It Makes No Sense To Neglect African Dance For Foreign Ones’
SATURDAY, 23 MARCH 2013 00:00
SATURDAY MAGAZINE - LIFE & STYLE
Alice Enonche is an Idoma from Akpegede, Orurkpo Local Government Area of Benue State. She started dancing at nine with Ebony Thearter Group in Makurdi. Enonche’s passion for dance is so overwhelming that it virtually crowded out her love life. Little wonder she rose to become the dance captain of the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN). She spoke to SONY NENE on how her adventures in dancing has taken her to almost all major cities of the world plus her crossover to Nollywood.
How did you start out?
It all started when, as a primary school pupil, I used to watch a theater group at Arabic Primary School, Makurdi. One day I went as usual, and the instructor, Boniface Onogu (boss of Benue State Arts and Culture), after taking the students through a session, discovered they couldn’t remember the aerobics instructions. In anger and frustration, he pointed at me as I watched from the window: “I am sure even this little girl who has consistently watched from that window can remember what has been taught.”
He then called me in. And to the shock of everyone, I actually remembered everything he had taught. And I replicated everything very well. That was how I became an automatic member of the troupe. Hitherto, no kid was admitted into the group until you are 18. But I was just nine years old. So through me other kids who had talents were later admitted into the private theater group. That led to the formation of the children’s group. After the exit of Boniface, we had several members of the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN), most of who were from Benue State, coming to impart knowledge to us. Hussein was the first to really brush me up. And at 20, in year 2000, due to my dancing prowess, I got employment with Benue State Council for Arts and Culture.
What transpired thereafter?
After three years with the state troupe, I was chosen for the national programme, a biennial training programme by the NTN. They train artistes from various states in Nigeria. Beneficiaries of these programmes then return to their state arts councils to enrich them with new techniques. On my return to Benue after the two years secondment in 2005, the national troupe requested that I return on contract as a resource person. So I came back in 2006 on contract and as dance captain of the National Troupe of Nigeria.
Thereafter, my contract was renewed every two years as I kept passing on the knowledge very well; and my bosses were very pleased with what I was doing. This officially ended in June, 2012 as I have moved on to Nollywood and other aspects of the industry. Through the NTN, I have learnt a lot, I have travelled round the world representing Nigeria in dance and other theater activities. I have participated in workshops and seminars on dance in all parts of the world. With lots of experience to go with, because through dance I have gone into acting, I have done stage plays, dramas and I am now delving into another aspect of theater which is popularly referred to as Nollywood.
Meanwhile, I have done some soap opera like Super Story, No Where To Be Found (which has been running for the past four years). I can say that I have gained a lot of experience as dance has done a lot for me. During this period, I have done my diploma in theater which has so many aspects, and I can say that even in dance you have marketing. I have come a long way and I am grateful to NTN for the opportunities. I am very grateful to God for this.
Of these dance workshops, which would you point to as most memorable and why?
It was the workshop I had in Brazil in 2008. We went for a festival in Cuba, called Wemilere, where they showcase all types of African culture. There I found that there are people that worship the same deities that we worship in Africa. They believe strongly that their origin is Africa and they are doing everything humanly possible to trace their roots. Same mood or worship, chant and dance were what I saw in Cuba. Then in Brazil I saw the same thing that I had seen in Cuba. But in Brazil it went deeper. We actually went to open a Nigeria House at El Salvador. When we got there, we met a local troupe who made no pretence in trying to prove to us that their origin is Africa. And when we did the African dance, in a total package called Iba, with masquerades from every part of Nigeria, we saw a people who could identify with most of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritages.
It was a beautiful thing for me because through my interactions with some of them, they revealed that through their forefathers they were able to trace their origins to Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal among other African countries. The most beautiful thing is for one to see people in Brazil who worship Sango, Ogun, Obatala and a whole lot of deities same way they are worshiped here —- which is one of the things we portrayed in our package to Brazil. The most interesting part is that when we were merged during the workshop, they chanted the same chant that we took to Brazil, even our dance movements of Oya, Sango they perfected to prove that they have every Yoruba dance movements. We later had a joint performance and it was a blast I can never forget in my life time. One of the best highlight of any workshop I ever had in all my career.
What would you point to as the greatest benefit you derived from dance?
The greatest gift I got from dance is meeting people from all over the world. You meet people from different backgrounds, from different ethnic groups and professions coming together to that common family unity of thetheater. I specialize in the traditional African dance; the neglected dances and nearly forgotten dances. I have come to meet people from different traditional backgrounds, learn their dances and the beauty of it all. For most people out there, ‘Oh this dance is from Benue State, from Delta State, from Ogun State’ and so on, but they never paused to know the history of these dances, why such steps are taken and why certain movements comes in at what point in time. But I have joy to know this. One particular dance that is referred to as couple dance is Maliki dance from the Kanuri part of Borno State. It like a ballroom dance, and a royal dance that is comparable to the royal dances in the United Kingdom and France. We have such dance in Nigeria. Dances that showcases your affluence and your wealth.
What would you have done differently given another opportunity?
Tell you the truth, I don’t have anything to regret. I will repeat everything I have done as it were because I won’t have gotten to the peak of my dance career. I actually count myself lucky because there are lots of good dancers there who never had the privilege to get to the point I reached in dancing. I was able to give out my best physically, mentally and emotionally because I put in my all into the culture of the people. So I took time to learn each of them so that when I am dancing, I put myself into the culture of the people where the dance emanated from. First, I learn the reason for the movement; I learn to understand every bit of each dance that I am exposed to. I am very emotional about the Nigerian dance and its meaning.
As an accomplished theater practitioner, what is your advice to those aspiring to toe your path. And who is a dancer?
First and foremost, most people who went in to read theater arts have this wrong notion that it’s all about acting or directing. There are a whole lot more —- especially people behind the scene who are making the show possible. Anybody can become a dancer because as you walk, you move with rhythm as dance has to do with rhythm, space and time. When you walk on the street you are walking with space and you carry yourself with a rhythm to it. But in dance proper, you must know why you are dancing; you must know why you are taking a step further than the normal walk on the street, from your sleeping on the bed which has its own rhythm, because if you miss the rhythm you get pain.
My advice to those going into theater arts is that they must know that it goes beyond acting and directing. You cannot teach African studies without having the knowledge of the African dance and their meanings. Most people who call themselves dancers are just exercising and doing something foreign that doesn’t concern them. You cannot do other people’s dance like the owners, and my advice is for them to come back home and put in efforts to develop our own and project it to the outside world because we are owners of dance rhythms.
How has dance affected your love life? Did you take after any of your parents?
Before now, dance comes first before any other aspect of my life. That has been one harsh decision or hurdle that I had to take as nothing comes in between me and my dance. I take solace in dance. Once I dance, I get orgasm, once I dance nothing else matters. I am the first in my family to start the dance culture. None of my parents or forefathers were known dancers. So it doesn’t run in the family. It came natural to me. So I woke up every morning looking forward to go and watch the theater performances. I made sure I did my house chore as early as possible to avoid anything that will stop me from going to the ebony people.
I think my purpose in life is dance. So nothing like love life if it was going to disturb my dance. Nothing else matters, I mean nothing. As at the time I was dancing nothing else mattered, but now I have someone who appreciates me for who I am. I never regretted my romance with dance because it gave me so much joy.
Where are you taking dance after NTN?
As a young person there are lots of hopes and aspirations. There are lots of things you think up and one of such is giving back to the society that has given you so much. Yes I have the mind to start a dance academy as soon as fund is available; workshops and seminars are ongoing and lots more. There lots of things going on right now in Nigeria we can change. I am not condemning what people are doing. But my focus is on the promotion of the Nigerian dance because I have been taught to learn and preserve it. That I must do with little modernization for the purpose of export and marketing strategies. If I have the opportunity, I will start from our schools as our pupils are being taught foreign dances to the detriment of our local dances.
To me it doesn’t make any sense. You have to learn your own movements first before you learn other people’s culture because. You cannot go to repair another person’s fathers’ house when your father’s roof is leaking. If we have the background of some dances, if we know the history of our own, we can move on to learn others. It breaks my heart when I see this because we are not making efforts to learn their own history. Teach them from the grassroots. I am very biased when it comes to Nigerian dance history. Why teach them South African dance and Samba in Nigeria? You can’t do these dances better than the owners. If I have the opportunity, I will do my thing and not going to get paid by someone who will tell me what he wants in a dance competition.
You look chubby, but the perception is that a dancer should look trim for easier movements?
That is where many people get it wrong. I am a traditional African dancer. The traditional African woman has got body. It does not matter if you have big thighs or not. The important thing is your ability to move with the rhythm. Ever seen the traditional ethnic group? The bigger you are, the better the dance movements of your body, like the ekonbi dancers in Cross River State. In ancient times, the Efik women came from the fattening rooms to express their body size because they have been taught to take care of themselves and feed their husbands well. And they showcase their flexible body because our movements are from our waist, thighs and chests. If you are not endowed, you can’t do the African dance movements better.