From childhood, Grace Ingabire, a contemporary dancer, loved to dance. However, there were no dance schools at the time to help her explore her passion, until high school when she began showcasing her skills.
“As a child, I danced at every opportunity at home, I danced all day but then it just stopped at home. I think because Gashora Girls Academy empowers girls, I began to show my love for dance, forming dance groups with school mates and volunteering to teach dance in kindergarten schools during holidays,” she says.
After high school, she decided to pursue her passion and joined Bates College in Maine, USA where she graduated last year with a degree in dance with concentration in psychology and philosophy.
Because of her love for dance, she has explored all kinds of dance, most of them self-taught.
“Most of the time I do free styling which is moving to your own beats but I also do hip hop, afro beat, jazz, contemporary dance, which I learned at school, as well as different tribal dances like Congolese dance and Rwanda’s Amaraba, Salsa, Bachata, and Kizomba. If you were to learn all these, it would take time, but when you love dance, all the movements just come naturally,” she says.
Currently, Ingabire is using her art as a means for change and wants to help others find their voice as well.
Using her passion and skills, she is working with a project called Ikiringo, a Kinyarwanda word that means happiness. The project is under BeneDico, a company that deals with intellectual property and promotes authentic local dances like ikinimba, ikinyemera and gusaama in Rwanda through creating digital content and working with local artists in different parts of Rwanda.
“We believe that our traditional dances sometimes get modified because they are not being performed by the original culture. So the objective of the project is to preserve these dances and promote local dancers in different parts of the country, like in Musanze and Gicumbi. We were planning to showcase the dances but because of Covid-19 we couldn’t.
The project is exciting for me because when you are watching Urukyerereza dancing it looks beautiful, but you don’t know where the moves are coming from. Throughout this project, I was able to see where the specific dances come from, it was really inspiring because some of them are similar to West Africa which we didn’t even know. Also seeing joy manifest in these dancers was an amazing experience, but mostly it has been a learning experience for me, that the dances like gusaama dance in Nkombo island that is associated with the fishing culture,” she says.
Linking psychology and dance
For many people, dance is perceived as a form of entertainment.
One of Ingabire’s goals right now is to try and create an awareness around dance so people can start to understand it better than just entertainment.
“If you explore dance further, it has similar benefits to exercise. Unlike exercising which is goal oriented and can be daunting, with dance you are carefree and letting go, and having fun which produces happiness hormones , endorphins and dopamine that promotes positive thinking, make you feel better, and empowered.
“The reason why dance is my passion is that every time that I dance, I feel alive, empowered and it gives me a sense of purpose. It puts me in a space where I’m not just hustling or making a living, but actually living. That space is very sacred and gives me an exhilaration,” she says.
Growing up without a dance studio around, one of Ingabire’s short term goals is to open a dance studio where different people can come and learn, mostly exploring the power of movements.
“With time as I become more established, I want to add dance styles in different forms. I wanted to start with women because dance gives you an outlet to express yourself, so I hope to work with women of different backgrounds to learn how to express themselves through movements.
“It will also help them have a space for themselves because women are always taking care of everybody else and forget to have self-care, so dance can enable them to focus on themselves, and enjoy who they are,” she says.
Her long term goal, however, is to organise dance concerts in the future, where different dancers can convene and share messages through dance.
“It will be more like what Mashirika does during Kwibuka. My long term goal is to work with different artists to have a space where we can have dancers come and showcase their skills or even create pieces on different topics that are vital to our nature. My goal is to have a space where we express ourselves regularly through movement,” she says.