When she founded Intayoberana, a Rwandan traditional dance troupe, six years ago, for Aline Sangwa Kagemere, it was just another traditional troupe added to the already existing ones in the country.
However, as the troupe became a success, performing at several stages and attracting more members, children began showing interest in learning the traditional dance.
“When I started Intayoberana, kids started coming and some parents who were part of the troupe would bring theirs so that they can learn the dance. We began with a few kids who inspired other kids to join,” she says.
Having learned the traditional dance at the age of five, and dance coach at the age of 13, it was easy for Sangwa to teach the children, with so much patience and zeal.
“At home, we had so many kids who came to learn because my mother was a traditional singer and dancer.
“Training children is something I love to do even though it requires passion and commitment because you have to train them from scratch, yet, being kids, it’s normal for them to lose focus which means you have to be patient. I teach them to concentrate and focus and I’m lucky that they give me their attention, and we teach them Rwandan values,” she says.
Aline Sangwa Kagemere in an interview with The New Times. / Sam Ngendahimana
Intayoberana cultural troupe is divided into three groups; with 80 adult members, Abangakurutwa aged from 13 to18 years, and Uruyange from 5 to 12 years. Sangwa trains in the dance choreography, as well as singing traditional songs.
Uruyange has 100 members, with 30 being professional performers.
The idea to sign up Intayoberana youngsters for the first edition of East Africa’s Got Talent (EAGT), Sangwa reveals, was at first with the adults, but somehow, it didn’t work as some of them were too busy to participate in the auditions, which prompted her to send a video of the kids, which they selected.
“It was God’s plan and a good thing for the children because I wanted them to get experience from the big stage. As a young girl who loved our traditional dance, I knew what gracing big stages meant my career and confidence would get a boost. Also, being young, they will never forget the experience which will help them love their country more.”
Sangwa drums for Intayoberana dancers during EAGT. / Courtesy
She reveals that the experience was nerve-wracking for her in the beginning, as the competition was stiff, but yeses from all the judges kept them motivated.
“Also,” Sangwa adds, “there were too many talents, but the majority of them were performing modern and foreign dances, which we also know, but we purposed it from the beginning to showcase our culture.
“It was East Africa’s Got Talent after all, which only made sense that we showcase our own culture. We worked tirelessly which won us the second position.”
She further reveals that during preparations for the finals, because they were children, organizers were lenient and asked if the children could perform to a recording, to which she declined.
“I knew the potential they had and what significance the experience would have on their careers, and so I insisted that they perform to live drums.”
The immense support by Rwandans and their reception was overwhelming for Sangwa, which she did not expect, having come in the second position.
“I am very grateful for the stars they became, taking pictures with everyone they came across, and for Rwandans welcoming us this well, they did not show any disappointment in us for coming in second place because we showcased our culture,” she says.
Uruyange consists of children between 5 to 12 years. / Courtesy
The troupe currently trains at Benimana, located in Nyakabanda Sector, Kigali, where hundreds of children and adults turn up for their daily training.
“Our plan,” Sangwa says, “is to set up a children’s center because, currently, we are renting this place. We hope it becomes a free space or school for kids to come and learn about our culture and values, and for parents who want their children to learn their culture.
We also hope that the traditional dance will help them in the future, not only to take on the mantra of our culture but also support them financially, as it did for me.”