Dancing to tap into African roots

Thursday May 19 2022
Dutch-Ethiopian contemporary dance and movement artiste Elsa Mulder.

Dutch-Ethiopian contemporary dance and movement artiste Elsa Mulder. PHOTO | POOL


Elsa Mulder, an Ethiopian-Dutch movement artist, a contemporary dancer, teacher and producer spoke to Andrew I. Kazibwe on dance, culture, and being a global citizen

Recently Elsa Mulder’s dance collaboration with Rwandan dancer Frank Mugisha premiered at L'Espace in Kigali, as part of the Instinctual Arts Festival, following a two- week residency for young creatives.

She is a graduate of the University of Performing Arts Lucia Marthas in Groningen, Netherlands and a 2017 graduate of the Codarts University of Arts in Rotterdam. She is also studying non-violent communication.

She was adopted by a Dutch family at age five in 1998, and travelled back to Africa for the first time in 2010, visiting Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda, and Rwanda. She is currently in Rwanda for a community art residency, dancing and teaching artistic movement as a tool for non-verbal communication.

Dutch-Ethiopian contemporary dance and movement artiste Elsa Mulder.

Dutch-Ethiopian contemporary dance and movement artiste Elsa Mulder. PHOTO | POOL

What does dance mean to you?


I am not very outspoken and dance gave me a medium to express myself. I hate it sometimes, but love it equally too. After a session, I feel emotionally relieved and fulfilled. There is more in our bodies than thought such as reflexes. We do this even without having to think about it.

What inspired your recent dance collaboration with Mugisha?

First, it is my first one-of-a kind performance that I have created with someone. We kind of have a similar life, though experienced differently.

Mugisha is born in Rwanda, then moved to Uganda and returned, while I was born in Ethiopia and raised in the Netherlands. For many reasons, Africans, in general, are travellers. So in our dance we tried to tackle identity, path, languages, home, meeting cultures, travel, and navigating spaces.

What was your impression of Ethiopia when you first came back in 2010?

It was very confusing. People knew I was from there, but I could hardly communicate with them through language which was a sad, emotional battle for me because I am from there yet felt worlds apart even when there.

How has using dance as a tool of communication in your outreach projects helped in reconnecting with your roots?

By using dance or movement, which are connected to rhythm or music and culture too, helped me cope with my return as it filled the internal need to reconnect, which was a great experience and a good start before reuniting with family physically.

Why is contemporary dance not yet considered mainstream?

Society holds a different perspective on what contemporary is, but Contemporary Dance means “new”, not based on culture, though it can borrow from it. It cannot specifically be fit into any box or structure. Most people dance contemporary, and yet they aren’t aware of it.

There are few women in contemporary dance. Why?

Generally, in Africa, we don’t have enough women not just in dance but also the arts. It is different in Europe where more women are actively involved in contemporary dance. We need to think outside the box to get inclusion.