Aimable Bahizi has been an ardent student and fanatic of the Intore national dance of Rwanda for nearly all the 38 years of his existence.
In 2006, he achieved his lifelong dream to be a vanguard of the national dance form when he joined Urukerereza, the National Ballet of Rwanda.
Today, he is its proud leader and dance coach.
“I was home meditating about it then I said I have to create something special because I have something original in me both physically and spiritually,” he explains his decision to join the national ballet.
Considered a national cultural treasure, Urukerereza’s mandate is to promote, preserve and protect the Rwandan culture through song, dance, and theater, among others.
The ballet typically stages presentations that showcase the diverse cultural aspects in the different regions of the country.
Perhaps Bahizi’s and the national ballet’s best shot at the national and international limelight came with their appearance in Intore (The Chosen), the 2014 documentary film by Eric Kabera, the founder of the Kwetu Film Institute and Chairman of the Rwanda Film Festival (RFF).
The movie is somewhat of an emblematic painting of Rwanda, its innumerable art forms of dance and music, its incredible landscapes, and its amazing voices and faces.
The 64 minute documentary film offers a powerful and rare look at how Rwanda survived its tragic past by regaining its identity through music, dance, and the resilience of a new generation.
It further documents the recovery of a nation that has been reconstructed through a social, political, cultural and economic dynamic from the perspective of its pain and turbulent tragic past.
The movie’s theme and relevance is further buttressed by the input of President Paul Kagame who said:
“Twenty years ago we sunk to the bottom. Most observers considered Rwanda a failed state, and predicted it would remain so for a long time. But for the people of Rwanda that was not an option, and there was only one trajectory ahead; We had to move upwards, and do it together.”
The President had made the speech in Los Angeles, California in February 2014 during his address at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
“To be called Intore means to love the culture of your country. To be selected among others for your qualities.
You see the bravery in there, you know. So, don’t come and mess up with me. You see the bravery, beauty, elegance, strength, that definitely is purely Rwandan,” Bahizi remarks in the movie.
“When we are dancing, we are showing Rwanda first and foremost. Even before you see the person, through the cultural pattern, you see the identity. If the person is full of peace and love, you see it through the image we give. What we are doing brings a lot of dignity to Rwanda. There is no other place you can go without your identity. That is our culture and it is why we focus on it so much.”
“Intore is a man of integrity, and a noble person. A person who is heroic, a person who, can actually stand up to the challenge, and do things.
In Kinyarwanda, intore means someone with great moral integrity. Someone who can die for his country. Someone who can die for others. That is being intore.”
Bahizi’s passion for dance started in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi where he was born and partly raised. He picked up the first lessons from his elder brother, and while at school he learnt from school mates that knew the Intore dance.
He recalls that from that very beginning, he made up his mind to only specialize in this particular dance form.
Moving to Rwanda
Bahizi and his family moved back to Rwanda in 1994, just after the genocide against the Tutsi. “I was very young at that time and I do not recall much,” he reveals.
While in Bujumbura it had been school and learning the Intore dance, in Kigali the then budding dancer decided to immerse himself wholly in dance.
“Intore is my culture and it’s my preferred dance. I learnt to dance from my friends and from my big brother. My parents liked it and said it was good for me so they supported me and even today they still do. They are proud that it’s our culture and that gives me the happiness to continue doing it all my life.”
I just continued learning to dance Intore and up to now I’m still learning because Intore is something that is very, very big. I think that you have to learn it every day of your life. I practice by thinking and by meditation and I even create dances.”
Yet Bahizi still speaks and regards himself with lots of humility:
“Even now I do not know if I have a talent for Intore. At least it’s not me to say that. People tell me I’m talented but I can’t say it myself.
I believe I have to learn day by day and there is no time or age limit to this learning. I can say that I think I’m on the way to becoming a talented dancer but I’m not yet there. If you see me perform today, and then again tomorrow, you will notice that something has changed.”
And he is fully immersed in his chosen trade:
“I don’t know what I am in the National Ballet. I am an administrator, I am president, coach, manager, I’m everything.
People call me in their homes and I offer them private dance lessons I even teach the kids.
We are twenty six -eight women and eighteen men. We have both dancers and a choir composed of six. The choir sings and plays drums and they mix the two in our performances.”
Bahizi ends the interview by poetically stressing what Intore is all over again:
“You can imagine Rwanda by watching our dancers, you know, if you see the elegance of the women when lifting their hands you can imagine cows grazing in nice hills, you see hills, you see green lush areas.
A cow has an important meaning in the Rwandan culture, like inyambo, they have a special walk, when a cow has eaten and drunk water, they are clean, on their way home.
When you see them climbing the mountains, no other animals have the same walk. I think Rwandans are very clever to imitate them when dancing.”