Good Cause: Rebecca Davis Dance Company

I was contacted recently by Sydney Skov of the Rebecca Davis Dance company about a cool project they’ve been working on here in Rwanda which uses dance as a way to reach out to former street kids. I wanted to share their story with you guys. You can connect with RDDC on Facebook and Twitter.

Tell us about yourself. What is RDDC?

Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC) is a not-for-profit organization based in the USA. The company creates dance and educational programs for street children and under-served youth in post-conflict and developing countries.  RDDC currently operates in Rwanda, Guinea and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

How did your company come to Rwanda?

RDDC was founded in 2005 as a performance company based in the US city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The company was devoted to developing original, evening length contemporary ballets that told the stories of important historical events, literary works, and social issues. We premiered six ballets including a multi-media ballet called ‘Darfur’ that opened in 2008 and toured up and down the East Coast. Funds from each performance were donated to genocide survivors in Rwanda and Sudan. Learning about the genocide and creating a dance work was just one small way to raise awareness and affect consciousness of dancers and audiences members.

Creating ballets allowed the company to take a critical look at the state of the world and wonder what we could do to make a deeper impact. So many resources go into creating and staging a performance; how could we harness our resources to change the lives of children? RDDC decided to use dance in a different way.

In 2010, we started establishing permanent programs that use dance as a tool to engage street children in post-conflict and developing countries.  This has evolved into dance and educational programs run by local staff in Rwanda, Guinea and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Rwanda, RDDC now partners with FidesCo, a re-integration center for former street children in Kigali. One of RDDC’s former American dancers, LaMar Baylor, currently dances with Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway and has been appointed RDDC’s Cultural Ambassador. Recently, from November 18th to the 25th, LaMar visited Rwanda to work with our students in both the dance and IT courses.

Why dance?

Dance can stimulate dialogue on a number of issues. A performance can tell a story and make audiences contemplate important issues, creating discussion and stimulating curiosity. What’s more, movement is a powerful tool to engage youth and provide an avenue for healthy self-expression. The energy of dance brings these former street children into the classroom, and once they are active, they are encouraged and supported. For some of the students we work with, dance class is the first place they have ever received a compliment.

Dance teaches listening skills, helps to hone attention, and introduces structure into the lives of children who have been living alone on the streets and who have experienced mental and physical trauma. Dance teaches the kind of skills and discipline that will help many of these youth in other areas of learning. When students show an understanding of class structure, they move onto skill building in our IT classes.

What is the RDDC program at FidesCo like?

The RDDC model is composed of three phases. The boys staying at FidesCo are attracted to the classroom with a fun, physical activity and are set on a path to reintegrate into school. Two dance teachers at FidesCo hold three classes a week for between 30 and 60 boys. Ballet, modern, hip hop, and other styles of dance are taught in class. They kids are always able to choose whether or not they will attend but they love dance class and see improvements within themselves quickly – so the class is always full.

In the second phase, the dance instructors conduct IT courses that focus on computer literacy, using the internet, and e-mail communication. For the students who show the most promise, RDDC raises funds to send the boys to a local boarding school, Sonrise. We currently sponsor five students and will sponsor two more in January.

What is the LaMar Baylor Scholarship Fund?

LaMar Baylor was a dancer with RDDC in Philadelphia before joining the company Philadanco and then Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. He has visited our program in Rwanda twice. In 2011, LaMar traveled to FidesCo to train our current dance teachers during a three week intensive. This November LaMar worked with the teachers as well as the youth, teaching dance and reconnecting with old friends. He also observed our IT classes and saw how far the students have advanced in this vocational training.

LaMar hopes that dance can have as great of an impact on the lives of the boys he worked with as it has had on his own life. He grew up in Camden, New Jersey, a US city with high crime rates and widespread poverty. When he started taking dance classes, he turned his troubles into the drive to pursue a passion. This past Thanksgiving, LaMar created the LaMar Baylor Scholarship Fund to send hard working students in the RDDC program to boarding school so that they may pursue their own passion for education.

How can people get involved?

Help us send deserving students to boarding school by donating to the LaMar Baylor Scholarship Fund.

Check out photos from LaMar’s visit here.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.