Music

Nairobi street dancers now on film

dancers

The Street Dream Dance Crew in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • The extraordinary story of seven young men who dance on the streets of Nairobi for their survival has been turned into a compelling documentary by a filmmaker who followed them for two years.
  • He developed a good relationship with the boys who man the car park at Jamia Mosque, Nairobi.
  • Three years later they got serious about the dance group, kicked the drug habit, and only seven of the original 15 dancers remained.

The extraordinary story of seven young men who dance on the streets of Nairobi for their survival has been turned into a compelling documentary by a filmmaker who followed them for two years.

The Street Family Dance Crew caught the attention of filmmaker Nick Wambugu in 2017 when he first spotted them at their regular dancing spot on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street.

“Seeing how talented these boys were, made me wonder if there was a chance they could make it,” says Wambugu.

“Just watching a group of non-professional dancers perform such sleek moves in the streets was amazing.”

He initially shot a brief dance video of the dancers which attracted a huge response when it was posted online at the beginning of 2018.

By this time, Wambugu had become a friend of the dancers and he discovered they all have fascinating stories. George “Bosco” Kithama, 21, the group leader, who was born Mombasa fled home and became a street boy, and eventually found his way to Nairobi in 2012 to escape a roundup of street juveniles by the authorities.

He developed a good relationship with the boys who man the car park at Jamia Mosque, Nairobi. “Our home was on the streets, we would spend the day high on drugs and committing a crime but we all had a passion for dancing,” says Bosco.

Three years later they got serious about the dance group, kicked the drug habit, and only seven of the original 15 dancers remained. “Dancing helped us stop drugs and crime and we all realised that we had a future like everyone else,” says Bosco.

Iddi Kanzika, 22, also known by the street name of Balotelli, says he left home in Mbale in Western Kenya after disagreeing with his family and started dealing in scrap material in Nairobi, before meeting the rest of the crew. “I was initially just dancing in the background, watching the other guys’ moves but I slowly gained confidence and was able to join the routine,” he says.

Just like the other members of the group Josephat Shiverenje, 24, also known as Ras, left home in Kapsabet, Nandi County, to become a street boy in Eldoret Town, and Kisumu and eventually found his way to Nairobi.

“I saw a group of boys dancing and I was invited to join the crew but we were so many that even if someone gave us Sh1,000 it would end up in a scramble,” he recalls.

They develop their dance routines by watching videos of other groups and adopt the styles to fit their choreography. “As long as the beat is right, we flow with it,” says Balotelli. “Dancehall is our first choice, but even if you bring on traditional music then we just flow,” he says.

Two years ago, Wambugu decided to share the stories of the street dancers with the world.

“What is happening with these dancers in Nairobi is a reflection of what is happening in any other city in the world,” he says. “This film demonstrates hope and resilience and how young men hustle their way through adversity,” says Wambugu.

Out of more than 400 hours of footage, shot over two years, the director was left with the task of weaving a story that captures the survival instincts and indefatigable spirit of the young men in a 50-minute production. “Through this process, I have seen them grow and mature, in how they think, and even dress,” says Wambugu.

Since the release of the film, Bosco has reunited with his family. “I have never shared the experiences of being arrested, falling sick and hustling life, with my family until now that that have seen it in the film.”

Besides dancing each member also pursues their interests in separate skills. Bosco is passionate about fashion and sells second-hand clothes, while Balotelli has been training as a mechanic, and Ras occasionally rides a boda boda.

The crew is now ready to return to regular practice sessions in anticipation of the lifting of the curfew that will allow them to exploit the opportunities from their newfound fame.

“Now, when we walk the streets, we are saluted even by those people who had dismissed us as thugs and idlers. Now is when I can finally see a brighter day ahead,” says Balotelli.

“Street Dreams: Dancing to Survive” was released at the end of September and is part of the BBC Eye documentary series.