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202 Smiles at the End of a School Day

As the bell rang, signifying the end of the school day, all of my classmates would rush outside some to play sports; and others straight home to study or relax. But my best friend Graham and I usually headed off toward the auditorium because our extracurricular devotion to the theater kept us within the school grounds until well after dark. We acted together, sang duets, and even danced homespun tap-dancing routines throughout middle school and high school. This continually entertained fellow students, family and friends (and of course ourselves).

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Keeping it real, Weedman and Felix
Just as we were performing in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a similar duo of equal talent and devotion was getting its start here in the suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe. An enthusiastic young student named Felix and his buddy Weedman were likewise addicted to drama, while attending the Batanai Primary School. They performed traditional Shona dances, played duets on the marimba and Ngona drum, and even wrote and recited original poetry together. However, as they parted ways on entering secondary school, they were forced to focus on developing "more important"skills. (Sound familiar?). Due to the country's difficult financial situation they would soon be required to secure employment and support their families.

Still, once enamored of the arts, a person is eager to again find an opening through which the many joys of music, dance, and theater can creep back into their old home--nestled deep within one's heart. And so it was, in answer to a similar calling, that Felix and Weedman were once again reunited with the arts and youth when they took it upon themselves to found the Harare Arts Club (HAC), devoted to the cultivation of arts, activities, and awareness among the community's young people.

The HAC is still less than one year old but is already the source of recreation for 200 kids from the New Mabvuku district as well as numerous nearby communities. It focuses on development and awareness in four main areas:

Culture--performing traditional songs, folk tales, and stories through drama

Sports--incorporating netball (girls' basketball without dribbling), soccer, and gymnastics

Social Problems--discussions on AIDS, rape, child abuse, and unemployment

Economics--teaching the fundamental concepts that affect the common person and encouraging self-reliance

I stumbled upon the HAC one afternoon while wandering the streets of Harare, being drawn to the beating of drums and the singing of children. It was by far the liveliest spectacle I've seen so far in Zimbabwe. There I saw a group of over 20 kids ranging from 6-18 years old performing highly energetic Shona dances to the accompaniment of powerful rhythmic music. There were four dances that I witnessed, most of them from Mashonaland East in the northeastern part of Zimbabwe, and only after speaking to Felix and Weedman did I begin to understand their individual cultural significance.

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Loyd and Susan dance the Joro to the rhythms of Elijah on the drums
Joro Dance
This dance depicts the poor rural farmers that gratefully celebrate an abundant harvest season. It is for a mixed couple, most likely husband and wife, who dance to the beat of the Ngona drums

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Precious, Melod, Monica, and Dadirai show off the Daindine Mwana Dance Daindine Mwana Dance
Four to six women partake in this dance which speaks of a woman's desire to have a child. The dance specifies the purpose of the woman's intent, "I wish I had a child so that he/she would dance as I am doing now."

Dzerevende Dance
This is a dance that is used to call for spiritual help in healing a sick person. It can be performed by two people or even by the entire community wishing to cure an afflicted neighbor.

Kusarima Dance
This farmer's dance incorporates both typical rhythmic movements with special moves that represent rural work. Some motions simulate the handling of a hoe or digging with a shovel. Sometimes one farmer may injure another with his hoe and so ensuing fight-like movements are also acted out. Women often make gestures as if throwing a hand-full of seeds from a basket onto the ground.

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Tough to keep up - Dadirai and Monica doing the Dzverende
The kids perform these dances for informal public gatherings in order to raise funds for the basic operation of the HAC. However, they're often involved in ventures meant to benefit others in the community as well. Additional proceeds are mostly given to Zimcare Trust which is an organization caring for the needs of mentally disabled youth. They also have a donor relationship with SOS Children's Home which houses local orphans. Oftentimes they simply have no money to give to these groups, in which case, they just go directly to them and use their skills to entertain the kids who they feel are in greater need than themselves.

The two leaders of HAC also see their club as a great opportunity for young people to meet (Mon/Wed/Fri after school) and discuss important social issues with each other. It is a time when sensitive topics like AIDS can be talked about frankly in an organized and informative manner. Perhaps the most important subject that concerns Felix and Weedman is the rise in child abuse cases over the past few years. Abuses such as child labor, violence, and those of a sexual nature are very prevalent in the community and have perhaps even claimed victims among the members of the club. "I hope that there aren't any [victims] among us, but if so, I hope that they'd see the club as being their biggest support group in case they are experiencing abuse," says Felix. Several months ago, the HAC performed a play about child abuse as part of a citywide police campaign promoting the awareness of the issue. As with many of the plays performed, the kids try to utilize humor so as to make the messages more accessible to other youth.

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Feel the groove, do the move with Loyd and Munyaradz - the Kusarima
Weedman is concerned about the lack of community support he feels in terms of the arts, especially when it comes to the kids. With the economic situation as it is, even the adult drama groups are marginalized and therefore the HAC, being the only kids group, is really struggling financially. He explains, "In addition to money, we could use donated instruments and would love it if people would help us by making traditional costumes for the dances. The [female] dancers should be wearing the gavha (beads filled with seeds that make a cha, cha, cha sound) on their ankles as they dance, but at $80Zim/pair ($2) we can't really afford them even for a group of four girls. Those that are not so good at drama or dance love to play soccer but we just don't have enough soccer balls. We're entering a regional competition soon but we're still missing a marimba and costumes that would greatly improve our chances of winning."

Despite the finances, Weedman never ceases to receive fulfillment from leading the HAC. He asserts that, "Because of unemployment and lack of money, kids often have a bad life at home. They come to the HAC to escape and they always want to stay past the two hours of the club's scheduled meeting time. Just seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that they feel free, even if only three times a week is enough to keep me volunteering for them every week."

Both Felix and Weedman acknowledge the importance of appreciating other cultures, but hope that the kids never forget their own. Because of this, the two optimistically believe that there exists enough talent and devotion within the HAC for the kids to one-day travel outside of the country representing Zimbabwe and its culture internationally. But for now, they encourage the youth to concentrate on their studies first, guaranteeing them that, "From education all else will eventually follow."


The Harare Arts Club invites you to write to Weedman and Felix or any of the talented performers featured in this article. Or if you would like to make a donation of any size so that the club can obtain the necessary costumes for the competition and future engagements, please contact them at the following address:

Weedman Mtanga & Felix Veneka Harare Arts Club
5 Rozva St
New Mabvuku

Abeja - It's Good to be King! Or is it?
Kavitha - Bug Off! AIDS in Africa
Kavitha - Misconceptions about AIDS in Zimbabwe
Monica - "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Shawn - The King and I
Making A Difference - Paint a Perfect Picture

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