by Sydney Skov for The Dance Journal
The Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC),was created in 2005 with a focus on developing original, full-length contemporary ballets based on famous literary works, significant historical events and modern social issues. With its home base in Philadelphia, RDDC premiered a total of six ballets with its troupe of professional dancers: Antigone (2006), Helen Keller (2007), DARFUR (2008), Greed: The Tale of Enron (2009), Van Gogh (2009), and Braving the New World (2010). At the same time, RDDC ran a pre-professional training program for 12-18 year olds that utilized a combination of ballet, jazz and modern classes to develop diversified young dancers.
After creating the 2008 production entitled DARFUR, founder Rebecca Davis began traveling to post-genocide countries to examine the effects of ethnic conflict and the steps towards reconciliation. During her travels, she discovered a parallel: street children had a deep love of dance. Returning to RDDC in Philadelphia, she decided to begin projects abroad that would give street children a safe haven through dance classes.
As Rebecca’s knowledge and experience grew in the field of international development, she realized that RDDC could be positioned to help children in post-conflict areas if the dance lessons were combined with an educational model to develop street children’s basic skills. In 2010, the RDDC Board of Directors decided to re-orient the company to solely focus on developing these programs abroad. Presently, RDDC has local staff in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Guinea and Rwanda. These teams work with RDDC/USA to operate the children’s programs and host international dance instructors and educational specialists to provide the ongoing services to the local population.
In November of 2013, dancer LaMar Baylor of Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway began his role as Cultural Ambassador for the Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC), an international non-profit using dance as a tool to educate and empower street children in post conflict countries including Rwanda. In addition, Baylor kicked off an Indiegogo campaign for the LaMar Baylor Scholarship Fund, to help send deserving students in the RDDC Rwanda program to a local boarding school.
For LaMar, it has been a return engagement. He first traveled to Kigali with RDDC in 2011 and his more recent visit enabled him to expand his role, teaching dance and choreography to street children and disadvantaged Rwandan youth impacted by the aftereffects of the Rwandan genocide, while creating awareness in the U.S. about the plight of these children.
“The beauty is the struggle,” said Baylor. “Seeing how Rwandan youth cope and how the country is rebuilding, you realize nothing is impossible and you don’t take things for granted. These kids show up for class every day physically, mentally and spiritually, willing to learn and ready to soak up knowledge.”
While in Kigali, Baylor maintained a video blog of his work with the children which has been shared through RDDC social media. Reaching out to his more than 2400 social media followers, Baylor hopes to earn enough money, through the Indiegogo campaign, to send several of the best students in the Kigali program to boarding school. This in turns perpetuates the mission of RDDC, supporting youth to become their own agents of change. A dollar from each of his followers would be enough to fund two students.
Baylor also checked in with past students, Ssali Joseph Eugene and Innocent Nkusi, whom he helped develop into dance teachers for the program. Before their involvement in RDDC, Eugene and Nkusi were both struggling to find a way to effectively channel their love of dance and passion for helping Rwandan’s children. Identifying and training new dance teachers has been another objective of LaMar’s trip.
“Capacity-building for Rwanda’s youth, like the work LaMar is doing to strengthen the skills of our local dance teachers, is one of the most important ways others can assist in rapidly developing this post-genocide country,” said RDDC Founder Rebecca Davis. “RDDC has introduced standardized dance and IT curricula that focus on physical movement and vocational training. Street children need this type of dual preparation before reintegrating into society, and RDDC employs local teachers to provide this training,” added Rebecca.
LaMar grew up in Camden, began dancing at the Creative Arts High School in Camden, NJ and continued his training at Halliday Dance and Dance Sensations at New Jersey. He graduated from University of the Arts in 2008 with a B.F.A. in Jazz Performance. He has danced with artists including Patti LaBelle, Ben Vereen and Jill Scott, and was a dancer for Philadanco before joining Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.
For more information on the Rebecca Davis Dance Company Program in Rwanda, see http://rebeccadavisdance.com/rwanda/ .