Impact case: Batalo East - Building bridges through dance

News overview

Batalo East is Uganda's premier organisation for young dancers. By linking them with local communities, it encourages dialogue between diff erent worlds, between traditional and contemporary cultures and across generations. Batalo East organises activities based on social themes, opening up diffi cult topics for discussion by a broad group. In this way, it supports young dancers in their quest to shape their identities against a rapidly changing social backdrop.

A changing society

Uganda is a country of stark contrasts and huge cultural diversity. Each region has its own traditions and customs. Life in the capital, Kampala, differs greatly from that in the rural areas, and the gap continues to widen. Increasing urbanisation and far-reaching globalisation are bringing pressure to bear on local traditions. Young people are most interested in urban dance and music styles from outside the country. Those living outside the cities often find themselves confronted with art forms, role models and ideas that have little to do with the reality they know.

Dance as a means of expression

In the absence of safe places for young people to share and express their creativity, a vibrant underground breakdance scene emerged in Kampala at the beginning of the century. Many young people were looking for ways to shape and communicate their identities. Batalo East was founded in 2012 at the heart of this creative scene. The organisation raises young people's awareness of traditional African dance and its cultural importance and provides a safe place where people can work together, exchange experiences and improve their dance skills.

Co-creating performances

Batalo East’s reach extends well beyond Kampala. With its Kuhamahama nomadic dance movement training programme, the organisation travels through different regions of the country, working with local schools, government bodies and communities. Wherever Batalo East goes, it brings together young dancers, musicians, instrument makers, villagers, teachers and chiefs to exchange stories about happenings in the region and then create a dance performance together.

Getting people moving

Exchange and cooperation are key at Batalo East. In addition to workshops and performances, it organises lectures with leading figures from the arts and cultural sector. It also initiates international partnerships with like-minded organisations, such as Don Sen Folo in Mali, with which DOEN helped to engineer contact. Its annual Batalo Dance Festival attracts a great many visitors. And around 40 students graduate each year from its Batalo Dance Academy. Whether they’re talking to the king of a local community or making children from refugee camps laugh, the Batalo East crew move people wherever they go.

“I got to know the organisation at the Batalo East festival in 2014, when I took part in the urban dance battle. Then later I discovered the whole concept of mixing traditional and urban dance. It appealed to me immediately and I decided to really get into it. Batalo East taught me to take a good look at my own culture, which has strengthened my identity. Batalo East provides high-level training to dancers who are proud of their traditions and share that with the rest of the world.”
Elvie Elasu, dance
and choreographer, Batalo East

“In a country where the arts are under heavy pressure from government, Batalo East manages to address social issues in an artistic way. Through dance and culture, they bring together young people and older people, the city and the countryside, conservatives and revolutionaries. In this way, they build new connections and promote social cohesion. The artistic director, Abdul Kinyenya, broadens his dancers’ horizons. He teaches them to look, to experience the world, and to discover what kind of people they are.”
Geerte Wachter, programme manager, DOEN Foundation

Dancing remotely

2019 was a good year for Batalo East. A growing audience embraced dance as an art form and was willing to pay for performances. But the Covid 19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works. For two years no physical gatherings were allowed, and many dancers were forced to retrain. DOEN’s support helped Batalo East to explore the remaining possibilities. The organisation set up online events, with which they are still reaching more people two years later. By 2022 Batalo East had recovered from its setbacks. With new programmes, it re-established its networks, and it found a permanent location in Butaleja, Kachonga.

“Our dream is to provide a safe, permanent base for creative expression and cooperation, and to create meaningful relationships between people from different backgrounds and cultures. We will continue to promote and pass on African cultural heritage. In the years ahead, we hope to document the traditional dances of all the tribes of Uganda and open a museum to display them all. We also hope to train a generation of leaders and artists who have a strong sense of identity and confidence in their culture and are able to build secure communities for the future.”
Abdul Muyingo Kinyenya, founder, Batalo East