Digital Dance and domesticity: the work of female East African choreographers in a time of Covid

Digital Dance and domesticity: the work of female East African choreographers in a time of Covid

Charlie Ely

University of Leeds


This paper looks at how the new realities of the global COVID-19 pandemic have shaped the work of female East African choreographers, including Diana Gaya, Catherine Nakawesa and Pili Maguzo. Forced to postpone my July 2020 fieldwork trip to East Africa, I began reconfiguring my research and communications to the online space. The digital technology gaps between myself, as a privileged researcher living in the UK, and the various artists at the centre of my enquiry soon became profoundly clear. Those with upcoming trips to Ecole des Sables in Senegal found them postponed, whilst I suddenly had a new access to the school via online dance classes, finding myself unexpectedly fortunate to be taught by Germaine Acogny from my living room. This paper unpacks the socioeconomics of digital dance, looking at the digital output, or lack thereof, of female dance artists in East Africa, while acknowledging that home remains a highly contested site for women. It distinguishes innovative ways in which these artists continue to express personal experience, assert individual agency, and champion human familiarity in the face of imposed distancing.

Biography: Charlie Ely

Charlie Ely is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, researching the work of contemporary choreographers, making innovative dance theatre in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda). Exploring the personal histories, training, practices and aesthetics of choreographers in this emerging field, her research recognises the epistemological value of dance, as part of the imperative to decolonise contemporary African arts practices. Charlie also has a background as a professional theatre-maker, applied theatre facilitator (including in Kenya) and drama teacher. From 2013-2017, she was the Artistic Director of London Grey & Green Theatre Co, producing and directing female-led new writing. She has been interviewed on BBC Asian Network about feminism and the suffragette movement, along with playwright Subika Anwar-Khan.