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Let’s Dance! Meet OAAF Dancers Nasser Mhende, Thulani Maluleka, and Jomo Masai

Words by Ka Man Mak
Photos by André Percey Katombe and Ka Man Mak

The Oslo Desk sat down with three dancers during the Oslo Afro Arts Festival to discuss briefly what dance they were teaching and what it meant to them.

African or Africana dance is a spiritual practice to communicate with the universe and for finding one’s own identity, as we have learned from the lecture by Thomas Talawa Prestø. Hear what these dancers have to say.

Photos: André Percey Katombe

Nasser Mhende, Afro House dance instructor

Zimbabwe professional dancer and singer songwriter, Nasser Mhende came to Norway in 2007 to study modern dance at Kunsthøgskolen in Oslo. He is currently running an artistic organisation called, ‘One Mic’, a collective of dancers and actors to create music events. During the Oslo Afro Arts Festival, Nasser and his co-instructor, Thulani Maluleka, held a youth workshop to teach Afro House dance steps.

Afro House dance is South African, and is practiced in celebratory events, such as weddings and birthday parties, “It’s a rhythm that everyone knows about. South African dance is very rhythmic, everyone listens to the rhythms and they move to the rhythms in any way they like, to use their upper body but mostly the feet that follow the same rhythm.” For Nasser, the dance he taught was more urban.

“Everything is in the feet. You have shakers on the feet as well. […] When you go up North [in Africa], its more to do with the body, where you can’t break it, you have to keep to the same body movements rhythmically. Whilst with Afro, like the one we are doing [at the workshop], it’s based on the traditional rhythm steps but it’s modernised.”

For Nasser, “Dance means freedom. Freedom of expression. Freedom of movement. Freedom of the body. So, it’s like body therapy. To keep your body loose.” Through dance, he wanted to bring joy and fun to those who wish to learn from him.

Visit Mhende productions website: www.mhendecreativeworks.com

Photos: André Percey Katombe

Thulani Maluleka, Afro House dance instructor

South African dancer and trumpeter, Thulani Maluleka first visited Norway in 1999 through an exchange program between Norway and South Africa organised by the Field Band Foundation where they aimed to teach kids music and life skills. He held a workshop for youths in Norway and was later asked to return to do more. He has now been residing in Norway for four years with his family.

The name ‘Thulani’, he started, means to be quiet and enjoy life, which matched with his big smile and jovial nature. For the workshop, he said “We mainly focus on simple movements. […] We turn it to a smooth and nice dance. You know, shaking your body and enjoying yourself.”

For Thulani, “Dance means equality. […] We can speak different languages but when we come to dance, we don’t speak anything. We do the same movements. It’s like when we dance together, we feel equal. It also means freedom for me. It is where we express ourselves when it comes to dancing.”

Dance is also used in protests, not because of joy, Thulani explained, but rather “dance is the way we do things.”  

Photo: Ka Man Mak

Jomo Masai, Samba dance instructor

Brazilian professional dancer and choreographer, Jomo Masai started dancing when he was only three years old. Since then, Jomo has had a long and successful career in dance and performing arts, and has travelled around the world teaching and performing samba and other dance styles. Jomo came to Norway in August 2012, after an intensive working period in Brazil, and Norway seemed to be a nice place for him to recharge for a while. He is passionate about teaching and believes that everyone has something unique and magical to offer, once you dare to be yourself. 

Samba dance while rooted in Brazil, originated from influences of West African dance practices that were brought to Brazil during the Portuguese colonisation. When people think about samba, they think about the carnival said Jomo, so this is what he tried to emulate in his workshop; connecting it to party without having to inject something. He also wanted his students to become observers to reflect on what they could see and to dig deeper to find their innate samba dance. 

“Dance is a feeling. Samba is just another way to express feeling. So, I like it when people learn different styles in order to increase their body movements’ vocabulary, body awareness and intelligence, cultural tolerance, understanding and respect […]. But in Samba, you can get and give much more of your energy. Your happiness. Or strength through movements. It’s high tempo. High speed. But it can also be smooth, slow and extremely elegant. […]”   

For Jomo, he has learned a lot of things through Samba and it allowed him to understand why dance is so important, “I can see the movements, and I let the movements come into me. Samba tells the history of my Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage and it runs through my veins, it shows in my body language, you can see it through the colour of my skin, in my smile, and in my heartbeat. And even in my deepest silence, there is a constant movement. My body and soul dance when I’m sleeping and move when I’m awake!” By travelling around the world and sharing his own culture, he has gotten to learn about other cultures and developed a non-judgemental mindset.  

“Dance is a non-verbal expression. It connects everything. Everything that doesn’t have a voice. Doesn’t have a sound.” People connect through movements. “Eye contact is dance. Touching is dance. Just touching without eyes is dance. Looking into each other without touching is dance. Dance is everywhere. And it is connecting everything.”

Visit Jomo’s dance school, Dance Box Stavanger website: www.danceboxstavanger.com

This article is part of a journal series produced by The Oslo Desk in collaboration with Oslo Afro Arts Festival.  

Ka Man Mak
Ka Man Mak

Ka Man is an investigative journalist, documentary photographer, and social entrepreneur, as well as the founder of The Oslo Desk. She is a British-born Hong Konger residing in Oslo, Norway. She holds a Master in Environmental Geoscience and have taken numerous diplomas including child psychology, and a course in big data analytics at OsloMet. Made numerous publications in newsletters, magazines and Norwegian newspapers. Interested in edtech, constructive journalism, women in migration, Cantonese language, alternatives to capitalism and asylum policy.