If you thought a career in dance can’t pay the bills, think twice. Dance as a career has many lucrative opportunities to offer, and Abdoul Hakim Mbaya Manzi can attest to this. Manzi wears many hats—he is also a podcaster, dance trainer, and actor. But before all this, he was just a kid who liked to move his body to a beat. Self-taught skills Raised in Nyamirambo, Manzi listened to different genres of music but was mostly drawn to hip-hop. He would tune into the radio to listen to talented artistes, the likes of Caswell Senior, known professionally as Casanova, an American rapper, and others. When he was 12 years old, he started teaching himself, mimicking dancers on TV shows and in movies. His self-taught skills as a dancer led him to a dance group called “Krest Crew” which he joined in 2011. Today, he is one of the most talented dancers in the country, a career that has not just gotten him recognition, but given him the opportunity to travel around the world. ALSO READ: Local choreographers on how industry thrived despite challenges Building a career From his time in the group, Manzi continued to grow as a dancer, and in 2016, dance had become so much more than a hobby to him that he decided to take it on as a career. As a way to boost his own self-taught skills, he signed up for professional training in urban, contemporary, and traditional dance, eventually holding teaching classes and workshops in Rwanda and abroad, with a focus on genres like afro-beat, afro-house, and hip-hop. Today, Manzi boasts of many achievements; notably, as a choreographer for ‘Neptune Frost’, a 2021 science fiction romantic musical film co-directed by multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, an actress and playwright. The opportunity motivated him to push beyond his limits, think outside the box, and connect with brilliant minds. He has worked with artistes and professional choreographers like Wesley Ruzibiza in various productions and freelanced as a choreographer and creative director with a number of companies such as Amizero Dance Company, Girl Effect, and UNICEF Rwanda. “I was also a choreographer for Bank of Kigali’s ‘Singomga Cash’ campaign in May 2018, and Girl Effect Rwanda’s music video ‘Nyaminga Sakwe’ projects in December 2017, among others,” Manzi says meekly. But his impressive career path is anything but meek— the youngster choreographed one of the opening performances for the Basketball African League (BAL) at the BK Arena in 2022, and many learners in cities like Paris, Stockholm, and Zurich have had him as a teacher. The essence of dance Manzi has participated in a number of dance festivals and workshops in Rwanda, Uganda, Brazil, Europe, and others, however, it means everything to him that dance is not misunderstood. ALSO READ: Choreographer The Urbansong is dancing his way to success In 2018/19, Manzi raised awareness for dance in a number of local schools, focusing on afro-beat, and did the same at the Nafasi Arts Space in Dar es Salaam in 2019. “When I had just started out, I was intimidated by the stage, so much that I would even cry. Today, I am confident in expressing myself through this skill, even when I blunder on stage, it’s still art. “Dance allows me to explore movement by expressing myself and is a means to know myself better. It is a motivational tactic I developed with time as I am able to express my emotions without saying a word,” he says. Manzi says dance also helps release tension, especially when he is annoyed, or in a bad mood, adding that he shares his passion as a way to empower young people to believe in their talent and contribute to the betterment of society. And to also trust their intuition even at an early age. Podcast, supporting artists Manzi is the founder and creative director of ‘Journey Space’, a multimedia creation that airs the ‘Journey’ podcast where he gives Rwandan artistes and other creatives in the art industry a platform to showcase their talent and discuss their experiences, struggles, and successes. The podcast was launched in September 2020 as a way to expose Rwandan creatives to the world and shed light on their work, with the aim to inspire people. “I wanted to encourage young talents to keep pushing and know that their artistic talents are seen and recognised by those who understand them so that they do not limit themselves. I wanted to document their work, talent, plans, and show them to the world since for so long, their work has been undervalued,” he says. Training Currently, Manzi offers dance training at Ecole Belge de Kigali, an after-school programme that has been running for four years now, and also holds regular classes every Tuesday at Kigali Soul, he also offers online and private classes. The Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media and Communication graduate from Mount Kenya University, Kigali, anticipates delivering a play this year.