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Tales of Mother Goose: Teaching ballet in a charming way

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Dance Centre Kenya (DCK) has only been up and training young Kenyans to dance for the last five years.

But in that time, its co-founder and artistic director Cooper Rust has earned such a broad-base after DCK began attracting children from all over Nairobi to dance, even to learn and love the dance called ballet.

She has taught children coming all the way from Kibera to Karen, many of who have gone on to higher dance studies overseas.

But many more have stayed here since they never stop learning new things from the former prima ballerina, who initially came to Kenya to teach dance to “under-privileged” children.

Many of those who have been with Cooper from the beginning are now in her Senior Dance Company, having been in many of DCK’s semi-professional productions of ballets, such as The Nutcracker and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


But currently, the seniors (aged 15 to 17) are learning how to choreograph.

It will be theirs that we will see this coming weekend during “The Tales of Mother Goose: A Young Person’s Introduction to Ballet”.

Featuring 30 members of DCK’s Junior Dance Company, which Cooper started two years ago, the company features dedicated young dancers (ages seven through 12) who Cooper says train at one of DCK’s three centres at least three times every week.

“The performance is meant to be a learning experience for everyone,” says Cooper, who specifically wants it to introduce ballet to both young and old in a charming, interactive way.

In order to make the dance understandable to everyone, Mother Goose herself will be on hand to share over a dozen of her most famous nursery rhymes.

“Our Mother Goose (Beautrice Gaya) will be sitting in her giant shoe as she narrates each rhyme, after which the (juniors) dancers will perform the dance that has been choreographed by the seniors,” says Cooper, who is aware that just as the performance is meant to introduce young people to ballet, the show may also be introducing young Kenyans to the stories and rhymes of Mother Goose.

For while the rhymes flow like water in the West, and especially in the US where Cooper comes from, many people may not have heard the songs and rhymes of Mother Goose that American children learn from childhood.

They hear everything from “Humpty Dumpty”, “Jack Sprat”, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to “Skip to my Lou”, “Rub a Dub Dub” and “There Was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe”, which are all part of early childhood education.

The giant shoe, including the entire set design, has been constructed by Palacina Interiors.

“The one exception is the giant backdrop which was painted by Naomi Maina,” adds the show’s director who, like a mother hen, watches over every aspect of her dancers’ training.

The DCK now has 700 students who attend classes at any one of its three centres at Rosslyn Riviera Mall, Lavington Mall and Hardy.

She has also trained a number of her senior dancers to qualify as teachers in five years. “I look after all the classes, but we also have qualified dancers who teach,” says Cooper.

In fact, despite the primary focus of the school being the teaching of ballet, the curriculum has broadened over time to meet young Kenyans’ desire to learn hip hop, modern and contemporary dance.

Nonetheless, it’s young ballet pupils who Cooper has had the greatest success in sending on scholarship to study dance overseas.

Having started an NGO called Artists for Africa, which works closely with DCK, the centre has managed to send a number of dancers from disadvantaged backgrounds for dance training and even further studies in the US.

And many more of her students, after having passed rigorous exams given by the Royal Academy of Dance through DCK, have graduated and gone for further studies in Europe and Israel.

The “Tales of Mother Goose” will be performed on Saturday at 1pm at GEMS Cambridge Auditorium. It will be staged again on Sunday, October 6, at 1pm and 3:30pm at Braeburn Garden Estate.

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