Manzi Mbaya: The dance machine

Performing artists and entertainers usually resort to different tactics to gain confidence before hitting the stage. For dancer Manzi Mbaya Abdoul Hakim, the trick is to shed some tears a few minutes before he kicks off his performances.

Performing artists and entertainers usually resort to different tactics to gain confidence before hitting the stage.

For dancer Manzi Mbaya Abdoul Hakim, the trick is to shed some tears a few minutes before he kicks off his performances:

“People don’t know this, but before I go on stage, I cry for five minutes. I cry, not because I’m afraid, but rather because I’m really happy. After crying I get that energy and I really want to go on stage and show people what I’m capable of,” explains the 22 year old.

Mbaya is one of the most popular dancers and dance teachers in Kigali. He is a happy, easygoing fellow whose face is always wrapped in a hearty smile. He attributes his cheerful nature to the value that he attaches to dance:

“When I cry it’s a cry of happiness. I think without dance I would be a loser,” he explains, adding that the essence of dance is not to have fun per se, but being humanitarian:

“You bring that joy to you and then you share it with people. Dance can save lives and I’m so thankful to all the people I always dance with. Dance has really connected me with so many people and changed my life.”

Currently he teaches dance at Raw Motions Dance Company, a dance studio that operates out of the Waka Fitness facility in Kimihurura.

“I do so many things as an artist but I started as a dancer long time ago when I was just 12. Currently I’m also a student of Mount Kenya University studying media and mass communication.”

Manzi teaches dance at Raw Motions dance company, a dance studio that operates out of the Waka Fitness facility in Kimihurura. / Courtesy.

His dance journey started in 2011, when Mbaya reunited with other dancers he had met in high school. The young dancers formed a dance group called Krest Krew, and soon were dancing and showcasing at different events.

“We were so young at the time and just discovering how people understand dance. We also didn’t know much about dance initially, but as the days went by we started to understand.”

Their first workshop was at Ishyo Arts Center, and this would turn out to be a turning point.

“In 2013, I met the crew of Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company. I was at Ishyo with comedian Arthur Nkusi and they had just started free comedy shows at Ishyo. One day he found us dancing and asked who wanted to battle with him. I stood up to the challenge and music was played. I danced and shortly after he took his phone and called someone and said “hey, I just got the person I wanted” but of course I thought he was joking.”

The next day, he received a call from Mashirika asking him if he would be interested in theater. He seized the opportunity at once.

“I knew Mashirika already but I didn’t know how they worked. When I went there I was really surprised to see new things because we used to just play music and dance to it. I had thought I was only a dancer but now I found that I had another thing in me –theater and I’ve loved theater and worked with Mashirika since that day.”

At the time, he was still in his A-levels at a boarding school, and had to suspend dance when school beckoned again. However he stayed in touch with Mashirika, and just carried on with them after completing high school at St. Emmanuel in Masaka.

It was around this time that he launched his own Youtube channel to which he posted all his dance videos for fans. The videos earned him more visibility and fans than he had bargained for.

After high school Mbaya yearned to become professional in his dancing. He decided to retrace his roots to Mashirika, which at the time was organizing the second edition of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

“I met Wesley Ruzibiza of Amizero Dance Company who picked interest in our dance and asked us to represent Amizero in Batalo East Festival in Uganda. We went and facilitated a one week workshop about traditional dance meeting with urban dance. Then we performed a piece called Two brothers meet with the same passion, together with Hirwa Chris from Krest Krew.”

Even better, he wanted to start teaching dance, but lacked a studio from which to conduct classes.

“That’s when a friend called Masha Abdalla, a dancer from Canada and Alida from France told me they wanted to create a dance studio and they created Raw Motion Dance Company and I went there to teach. I asked Masha why they were not calling dance teachers to teach yet they had a studio and she said she did not have money to pay dance teachers. I told her I did not need money because I was so passionate about dance.”

His dance classes became an instant hit:

“People would leave lifting weights in the studio and come to just watch me and ask to join my class. That’s when I became an official choreographer for the company.”

Mbaya recounts his dance journey from January 2016, when he started conducting dance classes.  

“Dancing has not really been easy for me, especially that thing of coming from my comfort zone to say I’m a dancer and people have to accept me as one. Back before 2016 people would see me and ask; so you still dance? Why, when you have so many things you can do? I told them no. my family and people have to accept me as a dancer.

Most people think that dancers are people without anything to do or people who want money. But if I wanted money I would go to construct and be an engineer, but the love I have for dance is so big.”

A good dancer:

“I’d say being a professional dancer is the love, passion and courage to come out of the comfort zone, and being humble. Dancing is not about being famous but exploring and telling stories through your body,” Mbaya contends.

“We dancers suffer a lot but we suffer in a good way because we are warriors. I call myself a warrior because you have to wake up and do pushups, run, abdominal exercises, you have to eat … so that when you go on stage you have that energy and facial expression as you dance. 

You have to be smart and do research. A good dancer doesn’t smoke or drink. Being a dancer is not about the music. It’s that love you have and the passion but you also need the courage and patience because I believe patience is one of the greatest talents.” 

As far as dance is concerned, his wish list is long: he would love to see a place built specifically for artists, much like the convention center is for conferences. He believes that this would benefit the country as a whole, by telling its abundant stories. More pointedly, in future he would love to build a dance school to leave a lasting legacy.

Mbaya believes that the time is now for people to ditch their old perceptions about art: “People still have that mentality of thinking that a proper job is that which involves sitting in office. People are proud to spend their time in office even when they don’t work for much money. For me the key is we have to do what we love and the society has to accept and respect everyone.”

He is also grateful for the little he has achieved so far through dance:

“When we started to dance we had nothing. I’m not saying now we have a lot of money, but we have the profile and I have a studio where I teach people every Saturday. People now call me with requests to work with me and I’m really thankful.”

His final wish:

“I want to be remembered. I want people to see dance in Rwanda and say Manzi Mbaya was one of the guys that made it possible.”


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