Lamar Baylor, a famous dancer in the musical The Lion King staged on Broadway in New York was recently in the country on a charity mission with Rebecca Davies Dance Company, a nongovernmental organisation that works with post conflict countries to build capacity amongst the youth.
He explains his journey as a dancer and how his involvement in charity to Society Magazine’s Collins Mwai.
How did you get into professional dance?
I started dance formally when I was 17 years with formal training at an arts school. The following year I joined college to study dance and did it for the next four years. It was while I was at college that I discovered that it was all I wanted to do. I do ballet, jazz, modern dance, hip-hop, African, salsa and tap dancing. I have worked with dance companies and done a few side gigs. I have toured America and the world while at it.
Of all paths you would have taken, why dance?
I have danced all my life. When I was younger, my mum would put speakers on our porch and I would make dances and teach them to kids around our block. It was the only thing that got and kept our attention. I tried other things but it proved to be hard to do anything other than dance.
Professional dancers have been known to at times be overwhelmed by dance and easily fall into stress and depression, why is this?
Dance is hard; it is mentally, physically and emotionally tasking. But there is something in the disciple that makes you get up the following day. There is so much pressure, from yourself and from your teachers, you want to be the best you can be and it is easy to be discouraged. There are times I felt the same.
Of all your performances, is there one where you would like to live in that moment again?
I have a couple of them, but I would probably go with my debut in The Lion King on Broadway. Stepping out on stage with my mother and my godfather there and 1600 people watching, that was a moment I cannot put in words.
You have been around the world dancing, what is the one thing it has taught you about dance?
I have learnt that regardless of who you are, where you live, come from, background, upbringing, when you see dance, you can feel it. It is a silent art and it emotionally does something to everyone. At a concert you may not like all dance performances, but one will definitely win you over.
What is your involvement with Rebecca Davies Dance company?
Previously in 2011 I was here as a dance teacher, but now my title is cultural ambassador. My job is to further extend teaching to teachers and students and to overlook the IT curriculum the kids her company is working with are learning. I also will follow up with funding to see to it that it is put into good use as well as visit schools being funded. I will also present a student with the Lamar Baylor Scholarship fund. This is in Bosnia, Rwanda and Guinea.
Being in Rwanda, what is the one common misconception you noted?
People told me stories before I came here. I didn’t want to watch movies, documentaries or read journals about the country; I wanted to see it for myself. I was amazed by how much a country that has been through genocide has achieved, the people are great and there is a lot of development. It surprises me how little people know about the country. From Rwanda I learnt that the beauty is in the struggle.
Do you ever feel under pressure as a celebrity who people look up to and now as a cultural ambassador?
I have students, family members and others who look up to me; I strive for greatness for them to know that they can achieve anything they put their minds to. But I don’t do it for validation, I have nothing to prove, I have everything to share.
What has it taken to move from an amateur dancer to a famous dancer on Broadway?
It took a lot of faith and strong will. It also took a lot of self motivation and self discovery because it is through dance that I found myself. It has been very hard at times, especially when my parents didn’t have money to afford it. I got a lot of my training through scholarships and people paying off their pockets. I worked hard because people believed in me and invested in me.
Someday in the future, you will age and won’t be able to move as you do now on stage, do you have an exit strategy?
I am about to go for a Masters in Fine arts and dance. After that I can teach dance at higher learning institutions.