2020 has been a challenging year for the different sectors of the economy, due to the measures put in place to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. For a sector that is highly dependent on bringing together large numbers of people, the entertainment sector was inevitably hit hard by the lockdown. With events and concerts put on hold, theaters and bars closing, there is no doubt, the sector needs to explore more innovative techniques to continue operating.
Outside Kampala and the major cities, penetration of digital media in Uganda is only just picking up. This limits any digital-related innovations for the entertainment sector to thrive in our rural areas, leaving several people who work and rely on the sector against the wall.
In our Gulu community, we recently welcomed a new member, the Leather Beam Dancers. Formed early this year as the coronavirus pandemic posed a threat to the sector, the team of 9 has simply continued to thrive and grow, regardless of the challenges they face today.
The Leather Beam Dancers engage in different dance sets, ranging from cultural, urban, breakdance among others. The dance group started as a team of 3 but has since grown to 9 dancers, with 3 talented young women. Currently, the group performs at special events and functions when called upon, as they are unable to host events of their own.
Among the challenges they face including financial constraints, lack of collaboration opportunities in the industry, competition and the limited industry market, community misconceptions about dance groups weigh heavily on their progress.
In Uganda, music and dance have always been a significant form of entertainment. However, as we adapt to the international industry trends, the majority of the Gulu community still disagree with the idea of pursuing a career outside the usual white collar professions. Parents strive to see their children through school because they want them to turn out successful relating their idea of success to a white collar job.
“Our society continues to define us by what we do. Dance is considered to be a thing for failures. Worse more, the characters in dance groups are usually expected to abuse drugs. Association with such groups is a taboo in many families. This has not only limited the growth of our team, but also the market for our service.” Sam Lusubi, one of the dancers said.
Sam Lusibi and a colleague practice their breakdance moves.
The group, however, is positive about their talent and promises to break the misconceptions and redefine the norm. Their passion and zeal is what gives them hope and keeps them going in a very challenging sector.
Unlike the local scene, the dance industry has earned quite the respect and recognition through the different available platforms for the dancers such as dance competitions, talent shows, events and a lot more. A few Ugandan dance groups like the Ghetto Kids and the Masaka Dancersonly represent an itsy-bitsy portion of the larger industry, rooted in local experience. The few dance groups that have earned sheer acceptance of the local community have distinctly emulated Western style and dance culture, which is a relatively acceptable version of “cool”.
The Leather Beam Dancers fall in this category. They exude talent which if recognised and supported with a viable platform have the potential to turn dancing into a lucrative business. But first, the opportunity has to be fully accepted and respected in society.
As the dancers continue calling The Innovation Village in Gulu home, we ask, how can society be more accepting of an industry whose magic and glamour defy the perception of ‘fulfilling and dignified work’?
In defiance of the misconceptions around the sector, the entertainment industry employs a good number of young people today and this number will only keep growing. Talent like Gulu’s Leather Beam Dancers can contribute to reshaping Uganda’s future!