Eritrea: Dancing for Cultural Preservation

With a dedicated instructor and coordinator to a group of youngsters relentlessly working to promote and preserve culture, Meras Dance Group has come a long way to garner the achievements it has registered so far in the Eritrean art. This dance group aims to helping young nationals get closer to their identity on top of promoting and preserving the culture through their unique and extraordinary choreographies and performances. We were able to get hold of the group’s coordinator, Amanuel Dawit, and some of his crew for an interview. Following is a brief from the long chat we had.

Please introduce us with your group?

My name is Amanuel Dawit, coordinator, instructor and choreographer of Meras Dance Group. Meras was founded in 2014 with a small number of dancers and have been actively working under the Commission of Culture and Sports ever since. At first, the group totally focused on choreographies that promote and preserve our culture and identity. After a couple of years, the dance group begun expanding its works to cultural dances with a modern twist in it.

What is the status of the dance group at this time?

Currently, Meras dance group has 20 female and 20 male members. Members of this group came from different backgrounds, mostly selected based on their performances at various high-school cultural dance competitions and aerobics shows. The main objective for the formation of this group is to preserve and promote the culture, history and identity that Eritreans possess. We believe that art, especially dancing, is a very powerful work of art that can be used to express and tell someone’s history, identity, culture, background, and so much more.

We have worked in many hit music videos so far, in addition to different stage performances for national and religious holidays. We won 1st place in the Znar- Tbebat competition held in 2019 and we were also the winners of 30,000 Nakfa for standing second place in a national competition held in 2018.

What is the secret to the bond you have with your team?

I feel like the first and most important thing in maintaining a group is to have a clear goal and purpose on why you are doing what you do. The first thing that they learn when they join this group is maintain good work ethic. They are required to be consistent, hardworking, self-made and so much more.

Dancing, although very common and highly praised in our society, isn’t something that anyone would choose as a profession here. We are striving to break these kinds of norms and trying to prove that it’s a means of communication that can make us shine even more. Our group wants to present the nine ethnic groups and introduce them to the rest of the world. We are trying to tell the world about our beautiful culture and society through dancing. But in the process of doing that, we also try to keep a good eye on our members.We try to connect with each other to choose the right and healthy path. We try to communicate and help each other like family. The bond we try to maintain within our group has helped us to be more productive in this field.

How is it affecting our cultural development?

The group is playing a big part in promoting and preserving the culture. The fact that our members are young is also an advantage. Some of them are in high-school and some are in colleges. Those young people keep learning more about their country and share it with their peers and schoolmates. They spread their culture and identity throughout the younger generation.

We have also been performing arts for solidarity and friendly events with other countries. We have performed our cultural and modern dances of all the nine ethnic groups during different celebratory functions. We use the opportunity to express and introduce who we really are and what we are made of. The feedback that we get from the audiences during such international events are so promising and motivating. We performed other countries’ dances as well. For instance, we have performed Chinese traditional and hip hop dances which helps to strengthen the bond more. Hence, I personally think that this group has a strong will to make our society and the rest of the world cherish the culture we have.

How about female participation?

We try to help young females participate equally with their fellow male friends. As I mentioned earlier, there are 20 female and 20 male members now. We intentionally opened up a safe space for them and promoted the participation of female dancers in different music videos. Because we believe that females can do everything, they just need an opportunity. We try to communicate and bond with their parents too, to discuss about what we do and how their kids are working hard guided by discipline. We recommend parents to give their children an opportunity to try what they love to do especially if it’s something that can be beneficial both personally and at a national level. Our society should accept dance as an important part of art and should be respected equally like the other professions and jobs.

What difficulties and challenges do dancers pass through?

Dancing is not as easy as we think it is. You have to synchronize your body and mind to be able to perform well. It’s exhausting and takes a lot of effort and sweat to reach a point. We have to practice every single day without a break for a very long time to prepare even for a 5 minute show.

We have tried to achieve great outcomes despite some shortages. We have wardrobe shortages for instance. It’s not easy to find complete set of outfits for all the nine ethnic groups. But we still try to not miss out performances due to such problems. I really hope that we get support on such shortages for a better outcome.

Future plans

We want to be the best at what we do first of all. Our motto is based on our identity and culture. Our culture must be preserved and presented throughout the world. That’s what we are striving to achieve. And we’ll hopefully make our country’s name shine in the world through our cultural dances. Thank you!

Thank you for your time!

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