Broadway performer to lead African dance workshop Thursday
Steamboat Springs — In the years after Zimbabwe gained its independence from apartheid rule, a young Rujeko Dumbutshena found herself, a black Shona tribe girl, in a predominantly white school.
The goal was integration, but it often didn’t feel that way to Dumbutshena.
“It was challenging, but my saving grace was my ballet teacher,” she recalled in an interview Tuesday. “She wasn’t racist at all. She was nurturing to me.”
From age 6 to age 12, Dumbutshena danced her heart out, earning solos and praise from her teacher.
Through her years at a preparatory boarding school — where they wouldn’t let her take dance lessons — and her university education in the United States, Dumbutshena continued to find solace in dance, a passion that eventually landed her on the Broadway stage two years ago as an ensemble dancer in the Tony-nominated musical “Fela!”
“I danced through everything,” she said.
Dumbutshena has traveled to Steamboat Springs to lead workshops in neo-traditional African dance for about 10 years, weaving together her West African heritage and Western hemisphere influences in a contemporary, rhythmic style.
She returns this week to teach one all-levels African dance class on Thursday, the first local class since her “Fela!” run. She said even those with little to no dance experience will find the experience uplifting.
“I think African dance is a good dance form to be able to jump in at any point,” she said. “It’s just constructed for every body type, so people can feel comfortable in coming.
“It connects you to your pelvis, and it’s grounding. It’s relaxed, natural movements. It makes you feel good, and it lifts your spirits.”
The class costs $15 per person and will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library.
The class will be set to a variety of afro beat music, including songs from “Fela!,” which was based on the life and music of Nigerian Fela Kuti.
Local African dance teacher Nicole Idzahl has been taking classes from Dumbutshena for 12 years — including traveling to her dance camp in Santa Fe, N.M.
“To us, to have her here, it’s the biggest blessing ever for us,” Idzahl said. “She’s so spunky, and she’s so nice and down-to-earth. We’ve all been friends for a long time, and she’s like part of our family.”
Idzahl said that what makes Dumbutshena’s style so accessible is its attachment to traditional rhythms and expressive modern dance.
“Everything she dances now and her traditional stuff, everything just has this amazing twist,” Idzahl said. “She’s so strong in her culture. Even watching her on Broadway, you can tell she is West African through and through. It’s so beautiful and so strong.”
Dumbutshena said her style comes from her melting pot of influences, including the recent addition of “Fela!” choreographer Bill T. Jones’ modern flair to her Shona roots.
“I’m not a very traditional African woman,” she said. “I’m very contemporary, and I’ve had many influences of many cultures in my life since I was a kid. So it’s more of a reflection of who I am.”
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com
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