The arts, being in essence a reflection on and expression of existential views, social meaning and personal significance, finds its quintessence in ideas about world views, philosophy, religion and culture.
A paradigm held in arts education being one that shapes the minds of future creative thinkers, has far-reaching effects not only for artists but also for the audiences of art and their societies as a whole.
Africanisation in our education systems is inevitable, necessary and is welcomed by most. However, would Africanisation be implemented being insulated from the arts industries’ realities? Isolated academia could make for a bumpy transition.
Within the South African performing arts industry, professional dancers are challenged more than ever to make a living for themselves. Work opportunities are sparse and money little. Most dance productions still rely on government funding.
Dance, in truth, does not constitute an industry. Self-sustainability is indeed the objective that the National Arts Council professes to and works toward. In the interim, dancers are required to be as well-trained in as many fields as possible and be as versatile and resilient as possible to be able to work uninterruptedly and earn a sustainable lifestyle.
Africanisation per definition implies specialisation. Would this come at the expense of what has made dance to be the art form it is today? Almost every professional dancer will vouch for the fact that the science of classical ballet, which developed over 400 years, still forms the fundamentals of their technique.
Contemporary dance has become an international language with which dancers communicate trans-culturally. Entertainment dance, in particular jazz dance, brings home the bacon for most South African dancers. Will an Afro-centric curriculum acknowledge these realities?
When Sylvia Glasser founded Afro-fusion in the late 70s, she and her pioneering counterparts merged traditional African dance with existing western contemporary dance techniques.
Today we boast with internationally acclaimed Vuyani Dance Theatre and Moving into Dance Mophatong, arguably our most prolific dance export treasures. Sadly, however, these are also the only two African contemporary dance companies that operate on a full-time basis and pay salaries.
There is at present simply no African dance industry. At best, there is merging and collaboration. African musicals such as Sarafina are exceedingly successful, but are fusions of entertainment dance and African popular dance. Dada Masilo ingeniously fuses classical ballet themes with traditional African dance to create breath-taking and unique productions.
The question is whether Afro-centric specialisation will imply a curriculum that nurtures African dance within the existing arena of what keeps the industry afloat, or will it be to its exclusion?
Another troublesome question regarding the multi-cultural make-up of our nation, is whether all its cultures will be represented in an Africanised curriculum. Will there be Indian dance, for example? If not, many an artistic baby will be disposed of with the bathwater.
Tshwane University of Technology’s Dance Department is at the forefront of dance re-curriculation, being the only university in Gauteng to offer degree programmes in dance.
Professor George Mugovhani, head of the Faculty for the Performing Arts and his team of esteemed academics have a great responsibility and colossal task at hand in structuring a curriculum that would both serve the indigenous actualisation of a democratic South Africa while providing their students with potentially salary earning careers as professionals.
The very exhilarating side to this is that TUT would be raising pioneers in the dance world who would get the opportunity to revere, express and live their Africanism. The very ambiguous side to this is the question as to whether all youngsters who want to become dancers, necessarily want to be pioneers of Afro-centric dance.
You touch my art, you touch my soul. Freedom of artistic expression is a big concept.