By Jennifer Willis
Zimbabwean-born dancer Rujeko Dumbutshena loves her culture and enjoys being able to teach others about that culture through dance. That is what she will be doing this Friday when she teaches a master class at GCU.
“We are so excited to be able to host Rujeko at Grand Canyon University,” says the director of dance for the College of Fine Arts and Production, Susannah Keita, who has attended Camp Mabina in New Mexico, a summer dance institute for which Dumbutshena is the artistic director.
“Her class promises to be invigorating and challenging for all, including novice and experienced dancers.”
Dumbutshena grew up studying ballet. At the boarding school she attended, however, academics were stressed over everything else and she was unable to continue her training.
“In Zimbabwe, dance was not something that was encouraged,” says Dumbutshena. “I was led to believe that you can’t have a career in dance.”
When she came to the United States in 1992 to attend college, she discovered differently. Originally enrolling at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.. as a visual art major, Dumbutshena soon realized that dance was indeed a career option. She eventually transferred to the University of New Mexico, where she received her B.A. in fine art.
“I started taking a lot of different styles of dance classes, such as West African and Congolese,” Dumbutshena says. “When I first started dancing again, I didn’t feel confident enough to jump back into ballet because I had lost all that time training. I did take a couple of modern classes, and this is where I veered toward African dance because it’s a style that you can do later in life and you can do more with it.”
That flexibility has transferred into a career that lets Dumbutshena both perform and teach.
“Teaching dance was a natural choice for me to make,” says Dumbutshena. “I didn’t want to just be a performer. Plus, there’s more career opportunities if you do both simultaneously.”
Dumbutshena has taught at several universities and colleges around the country. She also has spent the last three years performing as an original ensemble dancer in “FELA!,” the hit Broadway musical based on events in the life of groundbreaking Nigerian composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
“In ‘FELA!,’ there is a blend of modern and African dance,” says Dumbutshena. “It’s kind of a growing style of movement that’s become increasingly more interesting to me. In my classes, I tend to blend different styles and interpret African movements in more of a contemporary style.”
Dumbutshena has been teaching for so long that preparation for her classes doesn’t involve much, although she acknowledges that there is a slight difference in the way she teaches one of her community workshops and how she teaches a class at a university.
“When I teach at a workshop in the community, people are there just to have a good time and be able to relax and release themselves through dance,” she says. “With a university class, I focus more on technique and teaching specifics of African dance.”
No matter what type of class she teaches, though, Dumbutshena loves the diversity.
“With African dance, there is a library of movements to choose from,” she says. “It’s not as limited and rigorous as ballet, so I get to teach a very diverse group of people. Anyone can do this style of dance, from small children to older adults.”
“African dance inspires people in a different way than other forms of dance because they are learning about a different culture at the same time. I enjoy that.”
Dumbutshena will teach her open-level master class in the Rec Center Sanctuary from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. The class is free for students and faculty, $5 otherwise. For more information or to RSVP, contact Keita at 639.6295 or [email protected].
Reach Jennifer Willis at 639.7383 or [email protected].