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Lifeless National Dance Troupe?

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The first time I watched National Dance Troupe, which others used to call Kwacha Cultural Troupe, was in Mzuzu when the late first President Hastings Kamuzu Banda was opening a fair.
The dance troupe stunned people with their performance and ended up performing again by public demand.
Those were, simply, the days when the country did not have enough dance troupes.
Today, the landscape has changed. There are several cultural troupes on the ground that have been created to entertain the masses but also help promote and preserve culture.
But it has been some time since I watched National Dance Troupe until last year when they performed at the Blantyre Cultural Centre during the Blantyre Arts Festival.
The group did well during the festival, offering some traditional dances performed in the country, including Beni.
But with all that said, the group lacked the spark and it was as if they had not had rehearsals for sometime.
The performance even raised eyebrows among some quarters as to whether the group has a future and whether it still has that wow factor to reclaim its position.
Frankly speaking, the group for now, is just in a name and is not that much better than the other cultural troupes on the ground.
As a National Dance Troupe, the group was supposed to be on top of the other cultural troupes and even lead the way for the other groups.
Department of Arts Acting Director in the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development, Humphrey Mpondaminga, says the National Dance Troupe is still in existence.
Mpondaminga said the cultural troupe is in the Department of Arts under the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development.
He went on to say that the cultural troupe was created with a mission which still remains to revive, preserve, perform and present various traditional dances of Malawi for posterity and education socio- economic growth.
He said since its creation in November 1987, the National Dance Troupe has been a source of attraction and entertainment in the country, but also at many international conferences, festivals, seminars, government functions and workshops.
“The National Dance Troupe has held a lot of international tours and its well known in the region for its scintillating performances,” Mpondaminga said.
Mpondaminga however, admitted that in recent years, the National Dance Troupe has not been that visible enough following the mushrooming of other dance troupes.
“In recent years, we have indeed witnessed the mushrooming of other dance troupes. As a Department, we welcome these developments because it resonates with our broader mandate to promote Malawi’s Culture through the arts,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mpondaminga said despite not being visible, the National Dance Troupe has not essentially been overshadowed by other troupes.
“The other dance troupes were mostly formed as a result of an inspiration from the National Dance Troupe, often by former members of the group. The National Dance Troupe remains a pioneer, with far much more productions, and a premier choice for many high level events,” he said.
Mpondaminga revealed that at the moment, they are doing a number of things to shape up the National Dance Troupe.
“First, is to continue with the construction and re-construction of the National Dance Troupe repertoire by maintaining our contacts with the local communities across the country where we tap from,” he said.
Mpondaminga further said that the second move was to regularly re-stock the National Dance Troupe’s costumes and props and then thirdly, ensure that the troupe has a permanent home and studio for production and showcasing.
“We want to ensure that the National Dance Troupe has adequate personnel, which is disciplined both on and off stage, in order to maintain a reputable image and standards expected of a National Dance Troupe,” Mpondaminga said.
He also said that resources permitting, they were planning to enhance diversification of the National Dance Troupe’s products by producing and distributing en-masse, copies of videos for the general public and international community to access at affordable costs.
“As I said earlier, the group is there and will always maintain its name. The group is not competing with other troupes for it to be visible but is there to promote general awareness, respect and appreciation of the country’s traditional dances and music,” Mpondaminga said.
He further said that the National Dance Troupe acts as a symbol of national unity by bringing people together from different parts of the country to perform traditional dances from various ethnic groups of Malawi.
“The group is also there to participate in traditional cultural exchange programmes, competitions and festivals, thus learning about other people’s cultural traditions and help disseminate the country’s culture abroad,” he said.
According to Mpondaminga, the troupe has 22 men and 18 women drawn from all the districts of the country.
Some of the places the group has performed include Tourism Indaba in South Africa in 2012, World Exposition in China in 2010, Africa Dance Festival in India, The 2nd Pan African Cultural Festival in Algeria.
The troupe has also had stints at Youth Cultural Night in China in 1989, The Expo 2000 in Germany, Edinburgh Arts Festival in Scotland and Commonwealth Games and Cultural Tour of New Zealand.
Mpondaminga said that the troupe has also won awards, including Africa Freedom Dance Festival Award in Zambia in 2008, Lifetime Achiever Award in 2008 and Sadc Dance Festival Award in Zimbabwe in 2001.
With all these achievements, the troupe has surely represented Malawi outside.
But most of these achievements are way in the past, where the troupe was vibrant and frequently holding performances in the country.
The troupe still needs to up its game and rebuild its brand and reclaim its position as a hub of traditional dances, otherwise, now it is playing second fiddle to other troupes.

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