Kaffy: Redefining The Face of Dance
In an extravagant landscape filled with pop divas and entertainment kings and queens, Kafayat Oluwatoyin Shafau-Ameh, popularly known as Kaffy, stands out. Dance is so encoded into her DNA that her name is one of the first that comes to mind when dance in Nigeria is mentioned.
But growing up was not all that rosy for Kaffy. She had to become a mother of sorts to her younger siblings when her parents divorced. She was a child herself, barely aged 11. But the pain from that episode affected the family’s fortune and, like she said in an earlier interview, “we went from hero to zero.”
That, however, was not enough to block her path to fame. The path may have been less than comfy, but rising to national and international acclaim has made Kaffy appreciative of her beginning.
Dance was not her initial career of choice. In fact, it did not figure in her plans. Kaffy initially studied to be an aeronautical engineer, but fate drove her to a new path and made way for dance.
In spite of the prestige of being an engineer, and the denigration of dancing as a profession only fit for degenerates, Kaffy has no regrets. “In fact, I feel more fulfilled now [with] what I’m doing, I have an opportunity to directly impact people’s lives and empower people’s minds for the better.”
One crucial moment in her early experiences in the dance industry was leading her dance group to break the Guinness World Record for “Longest Dance Party” organised by Silverbird in 2006. “That really impacted the idea of how people perceived dances. Also, appearing in music videos then with Adewale Ayuba and Ruggedman and Lexzy Doo also actually pushed me out there into the entertainment industry because I did not know many people at that time.”
Apart from being forced into a “box of immorality” and slut-shaming, there are other obstacles Kaffy says are precluding dancers from being truly rewarded for their talents. Lack of discipline and impatience, which she says are ubiquitous among Nigerian youths, are detrimental to the professional growth of dancers. “Our major challenge is discipline. I think it’s a general challenge with young people nowadays that we generally don’t have the culture of continuous learning. We feel once we have learned something, everybody wants to be a boss. Nobody feels that continuous growth is necessary, especially when you are famous.”
Besides, she’s had to contend with artists looking down on dancers. In October 2016, Kaffy had a widely reported face-off with Davido who she accused of disrespecting dancers whom he had contracted. Although Kaffy notes that the pop star apologised in public, she, nonetheless, believes that that instance provided a teachable moment.
“It’s not your fault. We have learnt our lesson and we thank arrogant artistes like you as this will not continue for long,” she said in an Instagram post.
Such pervasion of what dancing is, she believes, is down to people thinking that dancing as a profession is all about moving the body. But in the midst of such prevailing negativity, Kaffy is constantly evolving, finding ways to accentuate the creative and the business sides of her trade.
“There are the areas that I am exploring and helping people to change,” she says. “Dance is lucrative, can be bigger, can be better and is worth investing your dime in.”
“People are pushing their boundaries, things are getting better. We are more popular. We are more accepted even to the point of career choices. Parents are getting more comfortable with allowing their kids be dancers,” she says.
Having come a long way to succeed in turning her craft into a lucrative venture, Kaffy has some factors she feels dictate how to become a brand in the industry. “It’s important to be open to opportunities, not put money first all the time and make sure all their engagements are within a proper contractual structure to help protect them. It is also important that they uphold a high level of integrity. Whether you are being paid or not, your work must also bring value to you as whatever part you play in the world of dance.”
She goes on to share a trade secret for budding dancers aspiring to succeed in the industry. “My trade secret is total commitment. When I get a job, I do it with all my heart, not based on pay.”
Getting in formation
As with every industry, the dance industry needs for a structure in place to control how businesses are run. Kaffy is not shying away from the fact that lack of a definitive structure is adversely affecting the dance subsector of the Nigerian entertainment industry. Left to her, dancers will have to be properly certified by a recognisable, central body.
“Ethics of our trade needs to be put out there. Let everyone know that this is how a professional dancer should behave, act, and be treated.”
As a way of giving back to the industry, Kaffy is working on registering a dance association called Dance Artists and Choreographers Association of Nigeria. With that in place, she hopes things can get better for dancers.
“There’s a lot needed. We can get grants, help the dance industry grow, and get aids for amenities, infrastructures that will help us build this sector of the economy.”
In line with that, she has expanded her company to four agencies that design opportunities for employment, mentorship, apprenticeship and internship programmes. All to help with the mental and physical development of the dancer.
Add that to the programmes, seminars and workshops set to be facilitated with like minds to help guide budding or existing dancers to success, and you have a ticking time bomb of great achievements waiting to happen.
Kaffy’s mind blossoms with thoughts and her ideas emerge like buds pushing up from the ground. She says her dance company, Imagneto, came about as a result of her not foreseeing a future in dance crews because of its short lifespan.
As impressive as this feat sounds, Kaffy is still plagued by the daunting aspect of the business. “We are in a creative industry that doesn’t like to conform to ethics of trade, business management rules, structure or economic rules.”
She believes in the need to educate people, dancers and other individuals alike, on how the business is run. “Every day, we keep pushing and keep educating people on how to function in such an environment.”
One way the renowned dancer has chosen to make such an impact is through entertainment. Her reality TV show, Beyond The Dance, is a reflection of her life as a dancer and as an individual. Two seasons have been shot and airing is set to start soon. “Beyond The Dance practically uses me as a window of a typical life of a dancer, a mom, a dance entrepreneur and how I am able to stream all of these parts of me together and still be sane.”
Having always been creatively involved in the costuming of dancers in videos, she found herself having an enormous archive of costumes. This led to her costume production and renting company, Yanga Online, which she says was inspired by demand.
There are other projects in the works: A YouTube channel and a TV platform to a discussion forum where dancers can discuss how professional issues can be dealt with.
Having come a long way to getting the deserved recognition for her contribution to the entertainment industry, Kaffy is delighted by her recently-received Headies award. She is the first dancer to earn such recognition.
“Even as much as it felt like it was long overdue for us to be recognised for our contribution in the entertainment industry, it also feels good that it came specially.
“The pay, the pain, the disappointment is all not in vain.”
Breakdancing into the future
Set to mark her 38th birthday on the 30th of June, Kaffy is eager to see what the future holds for her as a dancer. “Next phase for me is to expand the opportunities that dance can provide and enlighten the general public and private and public sectors that this is a bankable industry.”
Kaffy offers important advice for young dancers who aspire to take a similar path: “We need to continue to inform ourselves, create orientation platforms, educate dancers and people out there more.”