Professional dancing and dancers attract stereotypes in The Gambia. Dancing for money is often not considered a ‘real job’, and career dancers, especially women, are sometimes called names and are seen as loose.
Well one young Gambian woman has embarked on a personal journey to break such stereotypes in the pursuit of her dreams of becoming a professional dancer. Born in The Gambia to a family of dancers, Ndey Fatou Jabang alias Elektra is the Founder/CEO of Afriq Divas and Dance Gambia. “Our first born (in the family) was Jaliba Kuyateh’s backup vocalist and dancer. She started at the age of seven and got to travel to Germany with the national troop,” she says.
As a child, Electra knew she wanted to be a dancer. She was inspired largely by her mother who she watched dance for a living. This inspiration to dance was boosted thanks to Elektra’s exposure to stage performances at a tender age.
“I got to travel to Sweden and saw the different kinds of dance. I was exposed to ballet, jazz, modern and more. I saw what was possible for me as an aspiring dancer,” she tells The Chronicle.
When Elektra returned home from Sweden, she formed Afriq Divas, a dance group comprising of five girls. Among her objectives was to tackle the stereotypes and professionalize the dancing profession. That however did not come without challenges. “People automatically assumed that I would drop out of school. People called me all kinds of names but we stuck to it and have been working together for six years now”.
Afriq Divas has become a big name in the Gambian entertainment industry. Over the years, the group has been featured in top music videos, screen plays and live theater performances in Ebunjan Theater and Blaque Magique, among others. With her career moving to another level, Elektra got the opportunity to work with the Norwegian College of Dance through the University of The Gambia. “We had a training camp at Brefet Camp in Foni where they gave me more modern, contemporary, hip hop and jazz dance.”
Elektra’s initiative, ‘Dance Gambia Championship’ succeeded in promoting professional dance and inspiring people that dance too is a decent career to take. It was the first of its kind in The Gambia. Every week, five 5 dance groups compete for spots on the finals to be crowned Gambia best dancer.
“There have been great moments in my career. I performed on the Blaque Magique stage and owning the night because it was such a great show and we performed for Gambia’s biggest sponsors and influencers.” Elektra and Afriq Divas were featured in a music video for a Norwegian top boy band which had over 10 million views. The group was also the only dance group to ever secure a set at Gambia’s biggest music show, the Open Mic, not as backup dancers but simply as dancers. They were paid equally as the men participants.
“Dancers are being exploited, especially in the hotel and entertainment industry,” Elektra says. But thanks to her determination, things are changing, though slowly.
“A dancer can now make up to 20 thousand dalasi thanks to the fight we put up in the industry to earn the respect we enjoy today.”
Elektra’s vision is to create a standard dance crew that can train the next generation of Gambian dancers.