Kenyans embrace Afro-Latin dances touted for health benefits

Tuesday April 11 2023
 Afro-Latin dance Kakamega County, Kenya

People perform an Afro-Latin dance during an event in Kakamega County, Kenya on April 2, 2023. PHOTO | CHISPINUS OMAR | XINHUA



A spin here, a right footstep, a turn, and a dip are some of the movements on display during an Afro-Latin dance show in a socialising hall domiciled in Eldoret town, located in north western Kenya.

The gathering is colloquially known as 'socials' and brings together lovers of Afro-Latin dances such as salsa, kizomba, bachata, and others for a session of exhilarating entertainment and socialising.

It is one of the many socials that have mushroomed in the country in recent years following the mainstreaming of Afro-Latin dances.

"When I began some six years ago, Afro-Latin was most popular in Nairobi where several regular dances would take place at Kenyatta University and a famed hall in Nairobi — the Jericho Social Hall. With time, the dance expanded to cities such as Kisumu, Nakuru, and major towns," Paul King'ori, a student and choreographer, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"Right now, nearly all universities, which serve as the first contact and breeding ground for the dance, have an active dance culture. There are also weekly 'socials' happening across the country."


Started in high school

King'ori began dancing in high school in 2017 when his brother, a seasoned choreographer at the time, frequently drafted his assistance to develop some techniques for his students.

By 2019, King'ori had morphed into an outstanding dancer, consequently reactivating a wilted Afro-Latin dance culture at his university campus. At the moment, King'ori juggles teaching Afro-Latin dances and his final year in school.

King'ori observed that Afro-Latin dances originated from African and Latin American countries although their emergence and history are believed to be broader and convoluted. He said kizomba, semba, bachata, konpa, and cha-cha resonate more with most Kenyans. He recently launched his own dance academy which he plans to grow into a commanding dancing institution in the near future.

Form of therapy

Angela Mutinda, a data analyst, began attending socials in Nairobi as a form of therapy. She disclosed that a friend passionately and successfully convinced her to enrol in a salsa dance class.

"I found dancing a freeing and satisfying activity," Mutinda said.

Mutinda attends socials after work in one of the posh restaurants in a popular prime working district in Nairobi. The evening sessions are most popular with the working class.

Socials are generally free although some venues require a person to pay a redeemable fee between Ksh200 ($1.50) and Ksh500 ($3.74).

Anthony Abuya is the current vice chairman of the Afro-Latin Dance Association of Kenya (Aldak), the sole institution that oversees the interests of Afro-Latin dancers in Kenya. It was founded in 2020 when socialising activities were severely impacted by the social distancing directive issued by the government to contain Covid-19. The non-governmental entity became fully operational in 2022.

"During that time bars were closed and group gatherings were banned and it affected us adversely. So, we thought forming this association would help us to safeguard the welfare of dancers. Presently, we have nearly 200 registered members but more than 1,000 active members across the country," said Abuya, a medical doctor based in the western Kenyan city of Kisumu.

Boost from pandemic

Abuya said that the Afro-Latin scene received a boost from the pandemic when people began seeking rewarding experiences and activities to undertake. He added that it is now common to have Afro-Latin festivals happening outside Nairobi. Abuya forecasts the number of dancers to peak at 10,000 dancers in the next few years going by the current impressive growth.

The Afro-Latin Dance Association of Kenya is in the process of formulating a framework that will streamline the dance by certifying trainers and defining dance structures.

"Dancing has such great benefits to the body compared to other forms of exercise," Abuya remarked.

He hopes more people will join them.