Last weekend, Rwandans and friends of Rwanda all over the world marked the 20th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi through dance at an event dubbed Kurema: Moving at the speed of peace. The initiative was organised by Rebecca Davis; a dancer, social entrepreneur and activist.
However, Rebecca Davis is not your ordinary dancer. She is more than a ballet dancer moving in symphony to music to make a living. When not in her ballet shoes, she is a social entrepreneur/activist.
The Canadian born dancer took up dance fuelled by the involvement of her elder sister in dance and also because she saw it as a medium to tell stories in a way no other medium could. In a previous interview with The New Times, she shared how she chose her path.
“My elder sister was involved in dance, after a while she quit but I stayed. I guess I stayed because I saw it as a unique medium to tell stories on history, literature and society in a way no other medium would. After schooling in Canada, I got a full scholarship to study choreography in Russia and later returned to the USA to put up my own dance company,” Rebecca says.
The dance company she formed in 2005, Rebecca Davies Dance Company (RDDC), was composed of 11 professional American dancers and performed original ballet routines all over America for the next five years.
Thereafter, the company transited to international performances all over the world and rarely performs in America.
Choosing to begin her own company after graduating from Russia rather than be incorporated into a dance company shows an entrepreneurial side to the dancer.
“I have a Bachelors degree in business administration; I have a post graduate certificate in choreography from Russia and a Masters in international relations. It is always a challenge balancing academics and dance. I am always frustrated that I cannot do all of them better or find a solution to balance them, but my motivation comes from the kids I work with.”
After creating a production entitled DARFUR in 2008, Rebecca began traveling to post-genocide countries to examine the effects of ethnic conflict and the steps towards reconciliation. During her travels, she figured that through doing what she does she could have a positive impact on children’s lives.
Returning to RDDC in Philadelphia, she decided to begin projects abroad that would give street children a safe haven through dance classes.
She figured that RDDC could be positioned to help children in post-conflict areas if the dance lessons were combined with an educational model to develop street children’s basic skills.
“I think it is because of how I was raised. My sister and I were taught that we always have to help humanity, that it was part of what it meant to be a person. I discovered the way I knew how to do that best was through dance, it was my passion. My task then became how I use what I am good at to help others.”
It is then that she went to post-conflict countries with an aim to make a societal impact through her dance company. So far her company has presence in Rwanda, Guinea and Bosnia with programmes to serve the countries’ population.
In Rwanda, her company’s partners with Fidesco Rwanda, a non-profit organisation which takes care of street children in Kigali through rehabilitation and reintegrating them with their families. Through her company’s involvement in the programme, the children during rehabilitation have been receiving dance lessons and lately computer lessons. The programme is run by a team of Rwandan staff who work with the company.
“When I came to Rwanda, I realised there was so much hope and possibility and most people out there often hear negative stories. I wanted to be part of the positive efforts that Rwanda had going on, thus my company’s involvement.”
“The programme we provide at Fidesco is in two parts, we have a dance programme for the street children three times a week and a computer programme twice a week. The programme runs all year round as children come in and after a while they are reunited with their families and we bring in new children.”
So far they have noted improvement in the children they work with urging them to go further. “The children have started to change physiologically through the dance programme as it requires discipline and builds resolve in them. They asked for an IT programme to have skills they can use elsewhere, so far they are picking up skills,” she says.
Through her programme, some children are taken to boarding school for primary education.
Since she’s been to Rwanda eight times, she can now speak Kinyarwanda to work with the children making it easy for her to get along with them.
“What keeps me up at night is seeing the kids I work with and thinking that I want them all to go boarding school and have to come up with a way out. I use that as motivation to put more efforts, when you have kids looking up to you, you have to make it anyway you know how.”
“I want to keep building a strong model of the organisation and attach it to organisations and governments to make it sustainable and also create a professional dance group of the former street kids and the children I work with. I feel that if the performers were those kids they would tell their story on a bigger platform and serve as role models for other street kids,” she says of her future plans.