For the love of dance
Fulltime dancer Hillary Shiimi talks to tjil on her journey as a choreographer in Namibia and all the hoops she had to jump to get where she is.
14 September 2018 | Art and Entertainment
Shiimi started her journey officially in 2011 when she joined Equipped Dancing Academy where she has been to date. Having proven herself to the founder of the academy Stanley Mareka, Shiimi was given the opportunity to give choreography lessons to children within the academy and eventually moved to a management position. The avid dancer told tjil that she had always imagined herself as a dancer from a tender age.
“I started dancing when I was very little. There was a lady in my location that taught us how to dance in our Oshiwambo culture and that's where my passion for dance started. I remember walking to school every day as a child and seeing people going to work early morning while others lazed around and that's when I realised that I didn't want that and I would rather dance because dancing was my thing,” she said.
Shiimi said having to convince her family that she wanted to be a dancer was not a walk in the park. She recalls being chased out of the house by her grandparents and had to get her own place. Shiimi says her early struggles made her realise that not everyone will support you and that it's about one proving a point.
“I have been cut off from a lot of family events and gatherings, it's not a joke. I started living on my own when I was still in high school because they made the decision. Some shows really ended late so I would have to jump the wall and it was a whole process,” she said. Having made peace with her fate, Shiimi soldiered on until she made her mark and today, her family is proud of her.
“Three years later they are calling me and talking about how proud they are of me as a Namibian dancer. Today we are okay and I have that support which matters at the end of the day. Slowly parents are seeing the importance of our duty as entertainers. We need to make them understand that not everyone will be a doctor. We need to make them understand that the person who is reading the news is clothed by a local designer and their makeup is done by an artist and these are jobs that we have in this era,” she said.
Shiimi says entertainers have the role of changing the elders' mind-sets and making them understand that there is employment in the entertainment industry. Today she has taken it upon herself and offers dance lessons to children in her neighbourhood where the elders are welcome as well, to witness.
“It's really tough when you are not accepted for who you are and if those of us who have experienced this take the challenge to make a difference I believe they will take us seriously. We have to be the change we want to bring,” she said.
Amongst her many responsibilities, Shiimi is a dancer for many local artists both for live performances and music videos. She has worked with artists such as Oteya, Michael Pulse and Lady Dyna. The dancer said that it's not one of the easiest jobs to have especially in the male-dominated industry.
“Just to get respect from some artists is a struggle and I have done events outside Namibia. It's not the same out there. Namibians think it's just about jumping on stage behind them but there's more to it because we as dancers bring to life what you are singing. It upsetting to know this. Artists still want to negotiate to get a percentage of our fees because it takes effort and I mean what happens if I break my ankle on that stage, will the 20% you took off my fee help me at all?” she questioned.
She does however believe that the dance industry is growing at a fast pace and the recognition is there. Shiimi says she applauds artists and industry makers who have recognised that people put bread on the table just from dancing.
“We even have people fighting for dancing rights in the sports commission and agencies that are representing professional dancers. We also have workshops for dancers and this is a sign of hope. Dancers need to invest in their art even if it means having to pay for a bus ticket to attend a workshop in South Africa because it will count on the CV,” she said.
In conclusion Shiimi says that local entertainers need to be true to their art and be creative enough to have a Namibian footprint instead of copied creativity from other countries.
“I can tell you that we have a few, like Damara Dik Ding's Bakuten move, as something we can be proud to say it's ours. You get clients who show you a Nigerian music video and will want us as dancers to replicate the whole video, where's the creativity in that? We need to set our own trends too,” she said.