Up Close with Eya Khalifa, Afro Dancer- Rwanda.
Updated: May 22, 2022
Eya Khalifa (@afrokhalifa_94) is on a mission to develop a sustainable urban dance scene in Rwanda. He believes deeply in the benefits of dance, and sees dance as integral to the development of the arts in Rwanda. Eya also uses dance as a mechanism for community development with vulnerable children in Kigali.
1. AFROCONEX: Eya, thanks for your time. Can you introduce yourself to the audience. What is your name, where do you live, what do you, and what style of dance do you practice?
EYA: My name is Eya Khalifa, I am 26 years old and I live in Rwanda. I am a creative
director, dancer, choreographer and founder of Afro Warriors Squad & Get Up & Groove Dance Battle. I specialize in Afro House, Kuduro, House dance, Hip Hop & Contemporary dance. I use dance as a mechanism for healing, building strong relationships, restoring dignity and creating hope in vulnerable children and my community. I achieve this through dance workshops & performances, dance events, charity (nutrition
and clothes), education and discussions. I am using a holistic, trauma based approach to provide academic and therapeutic services to my dance communities. Many of the dancers I work with come from very poor families and have been traumatized by poverty, neglect and/or family conflicts. I know that dance doesn't replace medicine, but it serves as a healing resource. Through dance, I develop the children's talent and skills, increasing their communication, confidence, allowing them to have better body boundaries, and healthier attachment to each other.
2. AFROCONEX: We collaborated with you before to showcase your Afrowarriors dance crew. The squad is comprised of orphans, and marginalized/at risk youths from your community. Can you help us better understand how Afrowarriors came to be ?
EYA: In 2015, I started working for Gisimba Memorial Center, as part of their trauma informed after school program. The center over the past 75 years has survived the famine and later the1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. During the genocide they saved over 400 children and many adults. In 2012 there was a nationwide shift from orphanages to a foster care system. Gisimba leaders then created a trauma informed after school program that now anchors the surrounding urban neighborhoods.
In 2016 I created Afro Warriors Squad as a dance department for the Gisimba After School Program. I created it with the purpose of giving young talented dancers a space to develop their dance arts. I see dance arts as a missing tool for real regional integration. The idea is to provide a platform for dance performances and dialogues. Allowing dancers to professionalize the dance and develop its capacity to become economically sustainable. I believe that I can change the background of my country through dance, reach an international audience, and use dance to help the Rwandan people heal from the scars of the genocide from 26 years ago.
3. AFROCONEX: One of the key objectives of Afrowarriors is to help shape and develop dance in Rwanda. Can you give us a picture of what the dance culture in Rwanda is currently like ? How is dance viewed by the community? And what are some of the accomplishments you have made with developing the dance community ?
EYA: At the beginning there were no urban dancers in Rwanda. It was only traditional dances, which receives a lot of respect here in our country. We worked hard on the ground to promote urban dancing and it was a challenge to live as a dancer. Me and my colleagues we worked together to develop the urban dance scene and we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished in our country over the past 12 years. We are the first generation and we separated our efforts into different areas, posting videos, creating a platform of performances and dance battles to make people understand what we were doing.
My part was to promote Afro House, Kuduro & House dance in Rwanda. I was the first to discovered those styles here in Rwanda, and I worked alongside my team Afro K.A.S.A (Kigali Best Afro House & Street Dance Academy) to promote those styles into the Rwandan urban dance scene. Now we have a huge number of Afro House & Kuduro dancers, they are adapting but still have challenges of fully understanding. That’s why we are still teaching and encouraging them through workshops and battles. The goal is to develop Rwanda's urban dance scene so it can fully participate in the world of performing arts.
We also have the "Get Up & Groove" Afro House and Kuduro battle. It is the first such battle in Rwanda, and it is an event I created with my dance partners Afro K.A.S.A The objective is to help young talented dancers understand the importance of dance education, and the positive impact it has on youth’s lives and the community. We also want to take our Afro House technique to another level; introduce it to our country’s urban dance scene and to our Rwandan traditional dancers.
Get Up & Groove collaborates with Afro Warriors Squad, Ndaganza crew & Afro D.N.A. Together we work as the national Rwandan Afro House dance company.
4. AFROCONEX: you told us that you use dance to help ease the struggles of the students day to day lives, and to help them develop discipline and self confidence. How has dance changed the students outlook on life ?
EYA: When I started teaching the students they didn’t really understanding what I was teaching them. It was a new style and a new technique which was at first difficult for them to discover. I started giving them good nutrition and dance materials to help in their development. I had a mission to make them the best Afro House dancers in the future.
Year after year, they continued working at it, attending professional workshops with the best Afro house dancers in the country. I knew it would be difficult to maintain the responsibility of their lives, but i've managed to work hard at getting any type of support for the students. The support helps to take care of their school feels, materials for dance, creating dance events, organizing trips and performances to motivate them and promote a new generation of Rwandan dancers. They trust me and they are standing with me. Now they understand what is dance and the importance of it, and they believe that dance will create more opportunities for them.
5. AFRCONEX: We love the videos you post and of course we love the collaboration video you created for AfroConex. With the challenges of internet connectivity, how do you spread the word about your mission and work locally ?
EYA: . Thank you! In my life, I am a hard worker and I like to share and collaborate with artists. In my country the internet is still improving but normally we share via WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook. These are the main apps we use in our country. I normally have my rehearsal schedule (solo and Teaching, performances). I like sharing to my community, they consider me as the first Afro House & Kuduro dancer. This is why I chose to work and improve myself and collaborate more with local dancers. I want to develop their skills and create more dancers and present them to the world.
6. AFROCONEX: Afrohouse, House, Hip Hop, and Kuduro are the main styles we see throughout your dance. Can you tell us what is it about these styles you love ?
EYA: When I was young my favorite dance was Ndombolo and Coupe Decale. But in 2013 when I checked YouTube, I saw Afro House and I got inspired by Manuel Kanza, The One Connection & Afro Panico. I loved the style and I started to copy them but it’s was hard for me to adapt to the style. In 2015, I started to learn House dance and Rwandan traditional dances. I wanted to be able to combine them (traditional dances) with Kuduro and Afro House, and create my unique technique. When people started to watch me dancing, I stood out as unique. I worked with my team Afro K.A.S.A, to create this new style directly from Rwanda. I still want to learn and become one of the best Afro House dancers in the world.
My style is called Afro Intore, which fuses Afrohouse, Kuduro, House and the Rwandan traditional dances of Intore and Igishakamba. I am changing the rules by mixing 2 traditional cultures, but I wanted to introduce something new and exciting for the younger generation.
Intore means warrior. They were an army trained to go to war and defend the king and kingdom against internal attacks. Intore dance was performed by warriors and was always performed as a sign of victory whenever the warriors returned from the battle. The dance was always performed with accompanying drumming and horn blowing. It has now become famous among the civilian population and today the dance is performed at ceremonies such as weddings and national celebrations.
7. AFROCONEX: What are your goals for dance ? Meaning what would you like to achieve personally with dance and what would you like to achieve with the Afrowarriors crew ?
EYA: My personally Goals:
I want to open a school of dance here in Rwanda. Where dancers and others artist will be safe to create their dance opportunities, event hosting and workshops. I believe that is a missing tool in my country.
I want to be a traveler, where I can present my country’s urban dance and techniques to the world.
I want to be a world champion and a great dancer who influence people in dancing.
I want to support dance generations
I want to leave a legacy as a dancer
AFRO WARRIORS GOALS:
We want to dominate the dance industry in the region and the world
We want to travel around the world and live a legacy as young dancers
We want to change our lives without struggling
For Afro warriors to live forever. We want to build an unbreakable company that will support young talented dancer’s generation after generation
We want to have a quality dance studio and dance materials
We want to have a quality dance education with professional trainers from around the world
To have more sponsors, partners and a budget
We want to meet Manuel kanza, our inspiration
We want to develop the art scene in Rwanda
We want to take young talent and create more platforms for them.