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How Petit Afro created a name in afrodance

Friday January 08 2021
Dance pic

Choreographer Petit Afro with some of his dance students. PHOTO | FILE

By BEATRICE MATERU

From the popular Shaku Shaku dance, Gwara Gwara, Azonto and others, African dance, popularly known as Afro dance keeps on setting its footprint to new lands. One of the people championing this journey is the skillful dancer Petit Afro.

A Tanzanian-born but based in The Netherlands and Spain, Petit dances, teaches and lives his passion as an Afro dance choreographer while bringing African dance, its culture, unique moves and rhythm to European lands.

Speaking to The Beat of how his journey started, Petit said it came naturally, “Dancing has been my passion from childhood; I remember I used to enjoy watching dancers at my auntie’s band ‘Twanga Pepeta’ during rehearsals and their performances,” said Petit..

The now accomplished dancer drew inspiration from Tanzanian dancers like Super Nyamwela, Congolese Werrason and his dancers within the Wenge BCBG band, Fally Ipupa and others. “I admired them, I watched their moves countless times when I was young, mastering some of them. Fally Ipupa is still on my playlist,” he said

Even when he moved to The Netherlands, where his mother resides, Petit continued with his hobby of listening and dancing to Afrobeat sounds for fun until one day when he attended a neighborhood party that he ended up joining a dance studio.

“There was this day I went to a party in my neighborhood back in the days in The Netherlands – it was a dance party, for which I didn’t know at first. I was just amazed people were dancing pretty well, asking around I was informed it’s a dance party consisting of talents from different dance studios. I was riveted and decided to join one studio,” Petit recollects.

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The great Afro dance choreographer started his journey officially in 2012 after winning ‘Azonto’ dance competition. “My dance teacher was told of my win and he decided to promote me from being a student to a dance teacher. I declined the offer, reasoning that it was a premature move and I needed more time to also adjust to other Dutch cultures, including learning the Dutch language,” he says.

However, Petit’s embryonic rise to the apex of Afro dance would be ushered in almost by fate. “There was a time I had to cover for another teacher, I agreed to do it only for that day. About eighteen kids came and I taught them some African Dance moves, the next thing I know I have a class of 40 children all interested in learning Afro dance. So that was it, I officially became an Afro dance choreographer,” Petit narrates.

He currently has two classes, one in The Netherlands and the other in Spain, but he also organizes workshops in different parts of the world like his home country Tanzania and in Uganda teaching Afro dance to children and teens

On asking him ‘Why kids?’ his response; “It just happened almost naturally! The children and teenagers picked him. From the few kids I first taught and danced with the first day to every other new kid that kept on coming to my class, I became popular among children with an affinity for grooving. People will even see a kid dancing and call me to let me know there is a potential student somewhere.”

Among his many Afro dance videos on social media, there was one that went viral, introducing the great Tanzanian-born Afro dancer to the global audience four years ago, in 2017 – his Afro dance video featuring Rihanna’s song ‘Work remix’.

In the video, Petit featured Angel, one of his students who was eight years old then. “The video just circulated! “It [video] made me realize African dance has officially gone global,” Petit said proudly, adding that people were astonished of how a little girl could dance African moves so well. “I think that’s the secret for its success plus the set and how I directed it,” he chipped.

With the exposure attained and talent retained, Petit learned that discipline is important if you want to go further and succeed as an Afro dance choreographer.

“Throughout my journey, I have learned that it doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you are not well disciplined you won’t succeed. Working with children and teenagers from different backgrounds in a new environment made me learn how to communicate with people, understand people in general and in a better way,” he said.

He opined that an entrepreneurship mindset is another skill a choreographer needs to have, “Yes, dancing is my hobby, it is what I like but how do I make money out of it, how do I earn a living? I have to have a mindset, set goals, seize opportunities for my talent to be of benefit,” he explained.

Times are changing, education is no longer plan ‘A’ in succeeding in life, talent and passion are rated highly. “I know how different our African culture is, but I’d would love to advise young talents whether in dancing or singing that they should find time to do what they are passionate about,” Petit advised.

He added; “Go to school; grab your certificates but find time to do what you like, sacrifice other less important things, find time.” He also hinted that there is more money in being a choreographer than just a dancer.

Living and working in new environments can be challenging at times, although for Petit, his journey to being an Afro dance performer was kind of smooth-sailing, but as a choreographer and dance teacher there are struggles here and there.

“In our day-to-day lives in The Netherlands and even in Spain you may not notice racism, but as you know, my afro dance videos are being watched globally, so at times we receive negative racism comments especially from America. Comments as to why am I teaching Europeans the African-American culture and all sorts of things. It is hard to explain to a 6-year old that those comments have nothing to do with them but how different life is in other places,” Petit lamented.

He also faces a challenge of disputing parents. “Each parent brags about how talented their kids are and that they should be centre of the spotlight in class, but I can’t put every kid on the spotlight, some are yet to master the moves although I do give opportunity to all the kids when they are ready,” he explained.

“Also, there are times a child is tired, doesn’t want to dance anymore and it could be in between the learning process. When that happens, I have no choice but to let him/her rest,” he added.

But amidst all these challenges, Petit finds unlimited joy doing what he’s doing. “I enjoy what I do; dancing and teaching others, meeting new people, travelling, making my culture known,” he says.

Petit’s perspective about creative talents especially in Africa, where a kid who is passionate about dancing seems lost, has changed. “Right now there is a positive response and support to talents such as mine,” Petit says.