Narratives in Dance

Narratives In Dance

This website sits a place for artists to share their practice through a range of traditional and non-traditional interview techniques. As such it is doorway using interviews to look from outside into the lived experiences of artists’ practices.

Anita Gonzalez interviews Mercy Nabirye

From her office doing business 

On your website, you write: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer, It sings because it has a song” What is your song? 

Whatever I do is because of the passion. I do not really look at whether I’m perfect or not, but what I love and passionate about. When you have a passion, you believe and that is what you sing.  My song – I’m a great believer in the arts from my culture. I’m from Uganda. I believe that you keep a part of where you come from and I love people who are authentic. I am just passionate about dance and I enjoy nurturing others and seeing them flourish. I find joy when I see someone I’ve known and I’m part of their journey. 

How does Africa Diaspora dance service the UK community? 

I worked as the director of ADAD, with a remit of bringing dance from the margins to the mainstream. My focus was on the awareness of dance of the African diaspora to raise the profile of the artists and the art forms they work with. My work was part of bringing dance into the ecology of the UK. African dance is very key to the community, it provides jobs, it provides self-belief, it provides leaders for others to look up to. 

We are a minority – we are five to seven percent of the population, although expanding, but we believe that the dance forms (traditional African, contemporary, Brazilian, Caribbean, street, Jazz) have contributed to the framework of dance in general. We are marginalized because our infrastructure is weak.  For 21 years ADAD was one organization that created that infrastructure however in April 2016 ADAD merged with three other organisations to form One Dance UK, the UK body for dance. It will act as a sector support organization within Arts Council England National Portfolio. We are trying to do something to create a level playing field. It’s up to us to raise the profiles of the forms and put them in those settings where a cross section of people will embrace them. I work in partnership with larger organizations such as The Place and the dance forms are becoming more and more popular and well liked even without exactly fitting with any specific traditional category or genre per say. 

Your international connection points are Canada, Uganda, USA and London/UK. Tell me about your experiences at each of those sites.  

I was raised in Uganda and I did all of my education and performing arts to University level while I was there. I was in a performing arts company. We performed and traveled to festivals, the UK and other places. When I finished my education I came to the UK and I had my son really early. I have lived half my life in Uganda and more than half in the UK. I started doing arts management and I am passionate about putting together infrastructures and systems to organize others. That’s where I can really put my energies and I love being behind the scenes more than in front of the camera. 

In the USA I connected with IABD (International Association of Blacks in Dance) and with Denise Saunders Thompson, now President and CEO.  I am now current board member of the organization affirming my position and taking authority to support the development of diversity on an international platform because I find the presentations are quite ballet-centric.

Dance of the African Diaspora in the UK has the variety and innovation to offer to the IABD members and vise versa.  The UK dance scene lacks the level of commitment to consistently train and create perfection in their artistic presentations.   Linking the different diasporas with the African continent, will give artists a stronger voice and I see myself in that mix as a connector, as an enabler, and even as a gatekeeper within the global infrastructure.   

My connection to Canada was with Vivine Scarlett Founder of Dance Immersion during IABD 2012.   We discussed opportunities to improve the infrastructure for Dance within the Diaspora. As a consultant I supported the development of dance Immersion’s framework for artists professional development.  I was exposed to artists in Canada which led to jointly creating a choreographic exchange programme funded by the Government of Quebec and British Council. This is an ongoing initiative.

How do you see your international connections feeding your current work? 

Oh… I see that as the core at the moment. I really find my strength connecting internationally. I see myself as an international player. I don’t think that my work to advance people and give them a platform and a profile would work without the international connections. In Uganda, I give free consultations over the phone. I am always in constant communication and advising people across the UK. One has to keep abreast with what is happening in various corners to know what to advise, what else there is to do, and what to connect to, for the aspiring artists.  

You have worked in many different art forms, performance poetry, choreography, writing for the stage and screen, and music. How does it feel to sit at the center of each of these differing art activities? 

I put artists at the center of these activities because they make their work. I enable them to flourish.  

What was Hollywood like? 

I didn’t go to Hollywood actually the filming (of The Last King of Scotland) which I was at happened in Uganda, but I got to speak with Kerry Washington and Forrest Whittaker. In fact, I have a new script on my shelf as well. It’s at the back of my mind. Maybe it’s my retirement package. 

How does your family support your work? 

 Emotionally.  I have a very close knit family.  I love my family and it’s a very close supportive family to me.   Because I lost my parents in Uganda to political strife and disease I have looked after them in the role of a mother.  Without my family I would be lost.