MindLeaps

On return to Kigali after our first trip to SEVOTA, we visited the MindLeaps/Rwanda studio. MindLeaps is an organization founded and directed by Rebecca Davis, a recipient of the Gratitude Network Award.  https://mindleaps.org/en/

The Gratitude Network seeks out the world’s most dynamic and innovative leaders and organizations impacting the lives of children and youth. Those that are selected as awardees receive a 1‐year program of intense coaching, mentoring and strategic advice to help them scale their business model to achieve results they only dreamed of. http://gratitude-network.org

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We met Rebecca on our flight from Doha to Kigali – by chance she was heading to Rwanda at the same to we were. To hear directly from Rebecca, listen to her TEDxFulbright talk.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxdZPdiaSO4

The MindLeaps programs are incredible. MindLeaps is staffed in-country, and the focus is “preparing vulnerable children for education” – children who live on the streets and/or who are not enrolled in school. The MindLeaps Rwandan staff works with 65 children every day, ages 9-18, working to teach them dance and life-skills through dance. Each morning, the children start their day at the MindLeaps facility with porridge and a shower. When they are able to gather consistency, community and discipline, they work with tutors: IT, languages, health studies, social studies, science and math. The staff and tutors prepare them to enter boarding schools in the capital and around the country: to have the chance to continue their education; to enter adulthood with options.

We were there to see them warm-up and then they danced for us, and we for them. What  a studio full of spirit and energy! There is a healthy amount of competition – I thought those kids were going to jump through the ceiling!  I tried to capture this moment of one of the teachers giving each individual a “high 5” after crossing the floor with turns and leaps: these dancers are seen.

dance

high five

Bashir Karenzi, Managing Director and MindLeaps teacher,  was a gracious host and offered insight into the goals of the program with both logic and heart.

Rebecca is joining us in late March. She will engage with the students in the School for Classical & Contemporary Dance at TCU – sharing her experiences and her methodology – and with the greater TCU and Fort Worth communities sharing films made about the MindLeaps work as part of the KinoMonda (film) Series – March 28.

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More on SEVOTA

Of the eleven SEVOTA centers around the country, we visited two. I think often about those experiences. Godelieve and the leaders in these two communities created means for everyone to move together, and for us, as their guests, to learn more about them in the process of simply being with them.Beth, Raavi, Leah

Elisabeth, Leah and Raavi outside the SEVOTA entrance in Taba.

The 23rd anniversary of the founding of SEVOTA was December 28th but in both of these communities, they waited until our visit so that we might be part of the celebration. As I mentioned in the most recent post, we experienced first-hand the power of dance to communicate and to transport the spirit. When you move your body, you move the space interior to the body, and you move the space around you. When a roomful of people are dancing together – when there is a group of young women filling the space around which we are all gathered – when that space is then alive with a group of men dancing full on with traditional war gear – when you are face to face with a woman who has invited you to dance and you are (dancer that you are!) attempting as best you can to embody the ease and grace of her motion – there is nothing else! We talked about this as a group: we left these gatherings exhilarated and with the sense that we had just come from long conversations with old friends.

SEVOTA second day

Our second visit to SEVOTA: Irené’s group selfie

What did we learn about SEVOTA?  Each community center is a bit different. The first SEVOTA center in Taba began as a sanctuary of sorts, primarily for women who were survivors of rape and children who were born of rape. Now each center continues to serve both survivors and the larger community in which it is located. There are focus groups associated with each center. For example, during the second visit, we met members of a group for children, a group for women and a group for married couples. In the center we visited, the focus groups meets together weekly, and engage in either conversation or activities that foster support, education or artistic activities. Representatives of the children’s group danced for and with us; one of the young girls read a poem she had written.  SEVOTA also has a division of animal husbandry and supports individuals and families who wish to acquire and care for animals. Just after we left, Godelieve purchased five pigs for a family to raise. When the pigs reproduce, their owners will give the piglets to their neighbors: paying it forward toward the cultivation of long-lasting community.

the pigs

The new pigs!

Some of the SEVOTA centers provide counseling services; this is a program offering brought forward from the earliest days. SEVOTA also organizes ‘field trips.’ Additionally, the SEVOTA organization has been instrumental in helping community members cultivate land for their own food resources, and to trade or sell produce. And finally, SEVOTA has supported education in its communities as well as helped individuals start businesses. The SEVOTA leaders often meet in Kigali. As Godelieve says: The journey from the countryside is a positive experience. It gives them [the women] a sense of purpose and a chance to leave their home areas. And it gives them a new outlook when they go home.*

clay road

Road between Kigali and Taba.

One of the most emotional and humbling moments, for me, at both SEVOTA gatherings was the celebration of the 23rd anniversary of the founding of SEVOTA. Members at both communities honored Godelieve through song, dance and speech. They spoke of her leadership with passion and gratitude, and detailed what SEVOTA has helped them accomplish. Godelieve brought a large candle, and invited us to light it with her. Members then passed the flame from candle to candle through the room, in symbolic representation of the light of SEVOTA moving through the community. To be part of that ritual, so personal to these communities and yet shared so readily, took my breath away.

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http://www.sevota.org

Godelieve returns to TCU as a distinguished guest in March of this year.

On to SEVOTA

Sit back!  This is a long one.

Godelieve Mukasarasi formed SEVOTA 23 years ago in Taba, Rwanda – site of some of the harshest acts of the 1994 genocide; home to four of the bravest women I have ever met.

Just over a year ago, Godelieve and three women from Taba visited TCU. They had come to the USA for the premier of Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel’s The Uncondemned. (There is a photograph of the four of them on the home page of this website as well as detailed information about the film, its creative team, and ways to support at essence.) The film premiered at the UN and because TCU was one of the eight producers, everyone then traveled to Fort Worth for a premier here. While visiting, the women came to Erma Lowe Hall to dance with us.

Let me back track a bit: Godelieve is a social worker and psychologist by training and she founded SEVOTA primarily to support women who had born children as a result of rape. In her words: Right from the beginning we focused on counseling, and the clients were almost all women. I started something we called Advice Saturdays, where they could come together and share their experiences… once she has opened up, it’s important for her to speak about the experience among her colleagues [neighbors, acquaintances, friends]. Maybe they hadn’t been subjected to exactly the same traumas, but they were having similar experiences after. So I grouped them together based on their needs. We had a gathering for women who’d been raped, for those who were widows…with this kind or that kind of challenge.*

Godelieve

This is Godelieve.

And I need to establish the importance of dancing. Again, Godelieve’s words: We needed to liberate the negative energy that people were still holding, so we decided to introduce traditional dance, singing, some games and skits that would make people laugh. When you’re dancing, you get some exercise, you feel more joyous, and so you let go naturally of some of the injuries to your heart, to your spirit. It happens automatically. And that’s how these women, little by little, began to restart their lives.*

So while we were dancing together in Erma Lowe Hall, Godelieve stopped us all and said “Come to Rwanda! We invite you to Rwanda.” That’s how we all started together.

As part of almost every engagement we had in Rwanda there was dancing. At SEVOTA, we were greeted with dancing; our friends danced for us; we danced for them (yes, all of us!); we danced together. We made two trips, visiting two of the eleven SEVOTA community centers during our time in Rwanda and at both locations we experienced first-hand the power of dance to communicate and to transport the spirit.

women's dance first dayLeah.Beth dancingdancing together

This, we learned, is the embodied process of dance and healing, and the way in which dance plays a part in changing a culture.

*Note: Godelieve’s words come from a book just published in 2017, Rwandan Women Rising. Author Swanee Hunt relates the history of Rwanda over the past ~60 years, frames and gives substance to the recent past and present, and opens the narrative to the  voices of 90 Rwandan women to fill in most of the detail. This book has been a fundamental resource for me as I begin to learn about Rwanda, and focus not on the genocide but the tremendous capacity for a country to reconcile and forgive. I am still struggling to understand how this peace-making works. These are not groups of people isolated in different parts of the country, separated by fences or armed guards or the like: these are neighbors learning to live with each other, define governance and justice with each other, cultivate a shared space amongst each other. There are no longer Tutsis, Hutu and Twa in Rwanda – there are only Rwandans.  https://www.amazon.com/Rwandan-Women-Rising-Swanee-Hunt/dp/0822362570/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517341574&sr=1-1&keywords=rwandan+women+rising+by+swanee+hunt

 

Guests of the University

Our group was the richer for three additional folks who traveled with us as guests of the university. Suzanne Garrison is a dance/movement therapist based in Brooklyn NY. She is also licensed to facilitate Authentic Movement. Suzanne graduated from the SCCD several years ago with the degree in Ballet and Modern Dance. She performed professionally and taught before returning for the masters at Pratt. Suzanne has such a keen eye for the details of how the body holds and lives experience in a wordless but highly communicative manner. She was quick to help all of us link dance and life, and realize that this trip was all about dance, and not about dance at all!  newyorkdancetherapy.com   and https://suzannegarrison.com

Suzanne

Ethan Casey is an author, storyteller, journalist, editor, traveler. He is working on commission to create a book about the TCU QEP (Quality Enhancement Program) – a program that privileges the creation of meaningful and sustained engagement for students as they learn to live in the world beyond the borders of the USA.  Ethan is a thoughtful man, and brought a life time of experience and perspective to our conversations. He is passionate about language and chooses his words deliberately. He is also lively, and was a willing participant in the many dance experiences we had.  ethancasey.com

Ethan

Michael McRay is an author, storyteller, educator, peacemaker. Michael’s experience in reconciliation and forgiveness was key in helping us understand the successes and challenges in Rwanda since 1994 and in so doing, helping us put these aspects in context with similar struggles in other parts of the world.  He is spirited – another ready dancer (Irish step dance, no less!).  https://michaelmcray.com

Michael

Dance travelers

These are my fellow travelers from the TCU School for Classical & Contemporary Dance:

Adam, Raavi, Elisabeth, Leah. all you need is loveJohn noted that our crew poured out of the van at each site we visited, ready to engage. This was a remarkable group – there was many a thoughtful conversation about community, identity, being and becoming as we moved through experiences together.

Journey to Rwanda

Since developing this site, I have been thinking of it as an image-based means of communicating what I am working on as a choreographer, and the pathways of those works into performance and/or the residencies, workshops and retreats that involve wild goose chase dance. I’ve just returned from a TCU sponsored trip to Rwanda and the nature of the experience was such that I would like to share it more broadly: I would like to acknowledge those with whom I traveled, those I met and danced with during the time we were in Rwanda, and what I learned. Additionally, it is my intention to share in a way that points readers toward ways that they, too, can engage if interested.

On January 3, I left for Rwanda – joined by faculty, students, staff and guests of TCU. I will introduce you to those I traveled with and then to the places we went and the people we met. Our goal – as part of the TCU QEP from whom we received a generous grant – was to lay the groundwork for relationships that would be sustainable. Speaking from my own point of view, I had no idea how rich this journey would be for its breadth and depth, and we all have John Singleton, TCU Director of International Student Services and ardent believer in engaging the world with TCU international students as guides, to thank for that.  John designed the schedule which included visits to arts, community and memorial centers where we met Rwanda’s leaders and visionaries, and the evening round table discussions with those change-makers and additional Rwandans who are engaged in arts, education, reconciliation and peace making.

Adam and John

John is on the far right in this photo. Left to right are Raavi Baldota, Elisabeth Pierson and Adam McKinney, fellow travelers you will meet soon.

Irené Kwihangana, a TCU junior from Rwanda, majoring in mechanical engineering, served as Country Director. He worked together with John to create programming, to translate for us (Irené speaks four languages fluently), and to secure internal travel arrangements. Irené and his friend, Ituze Christian, direct an NGO in Rwanda called Anointedhttp://www.anointedrwanda.org  Their NGO supports children at the juncture between primary and secondary education – a point at which many students drop out due to lack of finances for school fees, books and uniforms.  I hope you’ll read more about this organization and its goals and visions on the website.

Irené

Irené Kwihangana at Gisimba Arts Center.

That’s it for today. I’ll continue introducing you to the people involved and the experiences we had over time as I continue to process.

country 5

Rwandan countryside. Land of 1,000 hills. And endless farms.

suspended

I’ve started to work on suspended again. This is the work I started with Alex and Laura in residence at wild goose chase/the landing in summer 16. We’re working Erin into Alex’ role so that we have multiple options. Alex took these photos. Check out her Austin-based company:  http://swngproductions.com

Parallele -2_previewParallele 2_preview

 

Coming soon

wildgoosechasedance.measuring time.color

During sabbatical leave in 2017, Susan worked with composer Gregory Biss to craft nine microdances – seven for stage performance and two dance for camera works. She collaborated with dance artists over the age of 40 to investigate liveliness – and – the ways in which virtuosity is defined during various eras of a performer’s career. These dances will be performed in three arts and community centers in downeast Maine in the coming week.

For in-process photos, go into earlier posts from this year.

 

Thanks to Jasmine Bibbs for the beautiful poster design!