Traditional dance forms an integral part of the Rwandan culture. Dance is a key ingredient of ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings and storytelling. From weddings and thanksgivings to state functions and church services, there is always room for dancers.
When Cyomugisha Odile, a resident of Nyamirama Sector, Kayonza District saw an opportunity to turn her hobby into an income-generating activity, she grabbed it. She is one of the founding members of Itorero ry’Urugo. Whenever Odile dances, smiling happens naturally. When the relics of her favorite songs kick in, she closes her eyes and exhibits feelings from the heart. Her body and soul speak through dance.
Before the outbreak of COVID- 19, Odile and her colleagues were earning money performing in weddings and entertaining visitors of the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center. It is through this center’s hands-on training programs that she found a way to earn a living doing what she is passionate about.
This dance enthusiast is also a trained artisan whose handcrafts are sold in the temporarily closed Urugo’s craft market. The center, like many other businesses around the world, is counting pandemic-induced losses. Odile can still put food on the table, thanks to her newly developed versatile life skills and her country’s enabling environment, not to mention the supportive Urugo family, As members of a close-knit social enterprise, we have each other’s back.” She says.
Itorero ry’Urugo is relatively new but the group had a good 2019. Their urugo (home) attracted a good number of tourists interested in cultural experiences. In addition, their strategic location enabled them to benefit from a growing number of tourists visiting the neighboring Akagera National Park, which recorded a 12% increase in visits last year. 2020 would have been much better but covid had other ideas.
During their captivating shows, Odile and company encourage visitors to join them on stage and emulate their swaying while donning traditional attire. Dancing with members of the local community is the best way to feel their vibe and capture their spirit. The highly choreographed dance involves singing, drumming, clapping and a variety of spectacular moves, including coordinated steps and gravity-defying vertical leaps.
Apart from dancing, Odile loves weaving. Her favorite handcraft is a traditional Rwandan basket, popularly known as agaseke. Agaseke is a symbol of peace, love, food security and prosperity. It is also a key weapon in the fight against poverty. The art of weaving agaseke puts food on the table and sends kids to school. In addition, it brings together women from three formerly divided ethnic groups, hence fostering unity and reconciliation. The role of artisans in weaving a divided nation into a unified one is undeniable.
Addressing the situation in the wake of the pandemic, Odile expressed optimism: “The government is handling this crisis the right way. Life will eventually get back to normal. When that happens, I will spread my hands and dance again. I am already envisioning the day I will dance again. I can’t wait.”