Dúnia Pacheco: African Solo Dance Interview

Dúnia Pacheco is an Angolan dancer of African and Brazilian dances currently teaching in Warsaw, Poland. She was the first to introduce kuduro and mapouka to Poland. Dúnia is know as a choreographer and also as the organizer of the first ever European festival focused on Kuduro and Afro House. When my former partner Florian Tep heard about the new solo African dance interview series, he immediately recommended that I speak to Dúnia.

Dúnia is so successful that she is constantly traveling and taking part in events. So it’s not surprising that it took us several weeks to connect. Lucky for me (and you), she was up for doing the interview in English!

What follows are Dúnia’s own words in response to my questions. I have added some small adjustments in a few places to improve clarity for native English speakers.

What solo dances do you do from the African tradition?

I specialize myself in kuduro and afro-house – they are modern (urban) dances [rather than] traditional. Regarding traditional solo dances, I don’t have much knowledge of their histories because of the lack of sources, but I know various movements and dance steps from most of them.

When and where did you learn these dances?

It is hard to tell when exactly… As every healthy child, I was a good observer and listener. I learnt at home, at my family home parties, in the streets with my friends, at the school. Wherever, whenever, I used to watch my family members dancing – they were my inspiration and my goal was to dance like the best one among them.

As for the other styles like kizomba or semba, there was an auntie who liked playing loud music during the day while tiding up the house, ironing, or cooking. She would take breaks to teach me how to dance by putting me standing on her feet so I could sense her moves and the way she feels the music.

Where and from whom did you learn Afro House?

I learnt afro-house dancing in the 2000’s right after its music became popular in Angola. I was already living in Europe. In the beginning, I learnt it from the Angolan young people who come to Poland to study – we would organise Angolan meetings, cook Angolan food and play our music. The few parties a year organised by the Angolan Ambassy in Poland had a good impact. Nowadays, I [keep up to date] by watching videoclips on YouTube, as every new videoclip usually comes with a new dance step. The lack of direct access to the source was the main reason why I saw the need of organising KuduroMania, which is the first in Europe festival of kuduro and afro-house.

What do you teach in your classes?

In my regular classes, workshops and performances I am a kind of creative conservative. I always bring the roots with which I create new tendencies of moving my body. On stage, I use my body to express my alter ego. On my classes I pay attention to the technique and expect my students to understand the music and find their own style. I tell them the history and intention behind every movement – even if I don’t know, I always create a story so they can easily associate the movements with a daily action, an object or person. The result is incredible. I see people dancing their mind. It’s kind of inner freedom I adore.

What is the goal you have for your students to reach by the end of a festival workshop?

During the festival there’s usually 1 hour for each workshop. And because it is not a regular class, most of people expect to learn choreographies, not necessarily paying attention to the technique. I do what I would like a dance instructor to do in a class I would attend myself – finding the balance between the technique, passing the history behind it and teaching a choreography. Regarding students [who are at a] basic level, choreography is the last thing I think of. My goal is to teach them how to dance, seeing them notice their improvement and their satisfaction rising during the 60 minutes we have.

How do you teach in order to accomplish that? Why?

During a performance, the public is there for the performer. Regarding workshops or dance classes, the dance instructor is the one that is there for the students. The first thing I do is to introduce myself by letting them know who I am, giving them a short information about the dance style and how I will lead the workshop. I always remind my students that they are free to ask questions anytime.

Meanwhile I open myself to the point that I gain their trust – they focus on what I show or say, we share smiles, they’re easy with asking questions and correcting my counting mistakes. To sum up, in order to accomplish my mission, first, I “check the ground” (I open myself) – what kind of people I have in the room, second, when I the ground is checked, I enter with confidence – they let me in, third, I gain their trust meanwhile.

This is an attitude I have had since the very first time I started teaching and had no experience at all. Now it can be called a strategy. To me it is as natural as listening to music on my headphones in public places and moving my body without worrying if someone is watching. I like people, I like teaching, I like dancing. Above all this, I like treating people with respect.

Why might people in the kizomba scene be interested in these solo African dances?

They can be interested often because of the simple fact that these solo dances demand an exact and specific body movement (especially hip movement), coordination, physical condition which help improving the skills and have a very positive impact when dancing other styles. Anther reason may be because in the modern semba, dancers tend to add some movement of sequences originating from traditional dances, kuduro, and afro-house.

Or they can simply fall in love.

Don’t miss a chance to dance with Dúnia!

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