For Dancer, Bukunmi Olukitibi, the love for dancing began in the streets of Lagos, where she danced at street festivals and to the music blasting from music stores with a dance group she formed with her friends. Now, an upcoming and versatile professional dancer of some eight years, Olukitibi speaks to LEADERSHIP Books & Arts on self-development, and the future of dance in Nigeria.

What is your opinion of the state and future of dance in Nigeria?
I think the industry is growing. I see different dancers and dance companies doing different things. They are trying and I am happy about that. It provides the assurance that those of us who have had opportunities to learn, keep returning to give back. It also shows that the coming generation will have more information and opportunities than we had. This isn’t just in the contemporary genre but other styles of dance. In the Afro Naija Dance. I see a lot of people imputing and coming up with new techniques building up the Naija urban dance scene.

Why do you dance?
Dance for me is more than movement. Dance is a tool that can change societies and the world. It is an escape to a space of nothingness; a medium of self-expression, of a certain level of freedom. Dance is life.

How do you describe your style of dance?
I am a versatile dancer. I have been exposed to all the techniques of these kind of dances. However, I enjoy contemporary dance, because contemporary dance is about the ‘now’. It is an expression of what I feel now; what it is now that I want to address, and the impulse I get in my body now, to move in a certain way now. It is very refreshing to find that you can use all of the memories that your body has acquired overtime in the present.

How do you create a balance? between creating a meaningful and emotional performance whilst maintaining a bit of restraint, and firmly rooted in the present, without exerting too much control over a performance experience?
For me, contemporary is the present, a research. It has to do with a certain level of abandoning, of letting go, which is tricky, and not for everybody, because some dancers are yet to reach that level of abandonment. At the time of that incident which we talked about earlier, I lost conscious of the present, I hadn’t learnt that control. I still allowed myself to let go completely. When you work with just dance techniques, you don’t get anywhere. Dance is personal. Finding a balance is about being conscious.
A recent research video of mine, entitled Authentic Consciousness, deals with letting go, which is found in the Authentic Movement. The Authentic Movement is all about not being in control of whatever movement that comes to you. With Authentic Consciousness, still under research, there is a level of alertness that the dancer has, a certain level of ‘presentness’ yet allowing yourself the feeling of ‘letting go’. For everyone it takes time to be able to truly ‘let go’. And when you ‘let go’, it takes time to master and be able to control. Everybody, dancers included, learn every day. When you attain one height, you find that there is another height. That is what balance is about.

Would you say you have mastered that ability?
Truthfully, to an extent, yes, but not completely. I don’t think everybody has complete control, because even those who have mastered that control, it sometimes but not often, slips. Nobody is perfect.

And it took you eight years of dancing to master that extent of control. Self-development is often that tough to achieve, right?
As there are different dancers, so are there different trainings, and even different approaches; same goes with contemporary dance. It depends on which one you delve into, which one you embrace. You also constantly allowing your body, your mind and spirit to receive and understand these different techniques.

Describe your creative process. How do you create your dance pieces?
I have choreographed a lot but haven’t created many pieces. One of the things, I am learning is ‘understanding creative processes and finding where I fit, and the processes to use.’ This is part of what I studied recently during my Diploma on Traditional and Contemporary Dances of Africa, at Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal. I am still researching creative processes and trying out new things.
You cannot just say this is my process, you have to be exposed to different methods. Also, the methods are much dependent on the kind of piece you are creating, the dancer you work with, their level of knowledge and skills. You wouldn’t want to throw at a dancer the level that will break them, rather one that will make them better. I’d say I am still researching.

You have worked with Qudus Onikeku, Dean Onye Ozuzu, among others. Do these experiences with international and radical artistes impact or influence your dance career?
Yes, a lot. I am very openminded when it comes to learning. Generally, when you come across people you tend to learn from them, particularly, if it’s something you are passionate about. I am passionate about dance. Everything I learn, I may not use immediately, but they are stored in my body. I believe information received, though unused, changes you. It’s been a great experience working with different artistes.
When I first saw Qudus perform, I thought, “Goodness, this is a different level of depth.” I love using depth to explore realities and experiences. His wealth of depth resonated with me; while the amount of experience Onye Ozuzu has, and how she has applied all the techniques she knows and allows her body to exhume all that fragrance of amazing experience, I found beautiful. It inspires me so much. Senegalese, Alesandra Seutin, from whom I learnt the Acogni technique, I admire her general grace. Same as other teachers I have gone through such as Horacio, Patrick Acogny, Saki Tchebe etc. All had an impact on me. These contacts are slowly molding the person and dancer I am becoming.

In addition to dancing, you have featured in a musical production. Talk about the experiences of moving from one genre to another, where you had to assume a character, albeit one you don’t often say much or anything as in your act in Abuja The Musical?
I have been in a few musicals, so it isn’t strange. I was in a musical of similar title in 2013/2014 in which I had more dialogues and stage time. I also have acting experience working in the movie industry. When I teach dance, I always tell my students, “don’t act, just show what you feel,” “Beauty is not in lines or facial expressions we put on. Beauty is in the truth,” I say. If you put yourself in the position of the character as though you are them, your performance will flow naturally and connect with your audience. But, it is still a different experience. In musicals, you have to sing and talk or sing and dance simultaneously. This is where dance helps, because in dance you learn breath control. Certain breath patterns make your movements larger, others smaller etc. Also, as a performer, one has to be versatile, and ready to assume any role.

Apparently, you are graduating beyond dance as a means of entertainment or simple dance styles to artistic pieces that expresses ideas and concepts. What unearthed this bent?
As a result of being open to exploring different dance styles, dance became a form of communication, and communication is meant to educate, inform and entertain. If Dance entertains solely, then it’s not doing enough. It has to educate people. It has to be a sort of change agent. If not, I don’t see its use. As a form of entertainment, it’s already doing something, putting a smile on someone’s face, making them feel better or powerful. But it isn’t enough.
Dance is my way of giving back to the society. The Freedom of Expression, one of my recent performances that you recalled, is about people not being as free as they think they are. In addition, it indicates that it’s high time artistes broke out of their shells, and started using their art to create change, to address societal issues. And when they do so, society needs to listen. Artistes and their art should hold society responsible for its actions when necessary. That piece has been updated and gone beyond what it initially was. The update was prompted largely on the peculiar challenges in our country, the severe economic crisis, the Boko Haram attacks, etc. It is a reflection of a bound Nigeria seeking its independence. Not national independence but freedom from chaos, looting, hunger, killing of twins etc.

What is your ultimate dance ambition or goal? Has it changed or been influenced over time?
I don’t think my ambition has changed much. I am not looking to become Michael Jackson or planning to own a studio, although, if things turn out so, it would be really nice. I am simply passionate about making a mark. With dance, I just want to learn, perform and teach. I want to be my own brand, to be free enough to travel to places and touch lives. I want to touch the world through teaching and performing (be it video installations, stage etc.) dance.