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Kaffy… Double Celebration For Africa’s Dance Queen

At a time when becoming a singer was the in thing for most young people, Kafayat Oluwatoyin Shafau-Ameh, popularly known as Kaffy, chose to dance. By 2006, when she led her dance group to break the Guinness Book of Record for Longest Dance Party after they danced for 55hours and 40minutes, it became obvious that a dancing queen has emerged.

“Breaking the Guinness World Record was really dear to my heart because it challenged my leadership skills and developed my capacity,” Kaffy said in an interview with Guardian Music.

However, being a team contest, setting that record wasn’t entirely on the shoulders on Kaffy; it was dependent on how far her team members could go.

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“It’s one thing to want to break a record by yourself, it’s another thing to be in a room with 24 other people that you did not know if they are going to make it. The rule says, ‘do not lose your team members.’ So, you have to find a way to make sure everybody lasted till the end. That’s the most challenging thing that I have ever done in my life among other challenges that came after that. It was too challenging emotionally and psychologically,” the dancer recalled.

As sweet as breaking that record was at the time, it’s not something the Queen of Dance intends to revisit.

“Not even for all the money in the world,” she declared, adding, “Let somebody else go and break it; I can guide them on how to break it. By the way, I have broken a few other records. I was honoured with The Headies Lifetime Achievement Award without even being an artist, a first. Before then, I used to wonder how everyone else in the industry overlooked the efforts of dancers. I wondered aloud if the industry wanted dancers to sing as well before they are honoured; I never knew the industry was watching me. This is why consistency is key in everything one does. Even when I got Hennessey Brand endorsement deal, they called me back to expand the scope from Sub-Saharan Africa to Global; I never even thought that would ever be possible,” she enthused.

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Meanwhile, year 2020 is a remarkable one for dancer Kaffy. Aside her 40th birthday, which comes up in June, the year 2020 also marks her 20 years on stage as a professional dancer. Already, the Kaffy has unveiled plans to mark the milestones at the fifth edition of The Dance Workshop and Conference billed to open on May 27 and runs through May 30, 2020, at the Landmark Event Centre, Oniru, Lagos. 

Though the dancer turns 40 on June 30, the celebration will be held during this year’s conference that brings together stakeholders in dance from within and outside Nigeria.

Speaking at a media parley held recently in Lagos to herald the celebration, award-winning Kaffy said the event would feature over 40 keynote speakers and panelists, comprising key industry leaders and 20 international choreographers and creative directors. The highpoint would be a mega dance concert, The Rise of the Phoenix, which will also feature the launch of her self-help book collections.

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Through The Dance Workshop and Conference, Kaffy has consistently channeled an expression to connect with young talents and building various capacities within the dance art ecosystem. According to the artiste, this year’s edition will open with a special session to harness talents among children in commemoration of World Children’s Day.

With participants from schools around Lagos, the focus will shift for the next two days to business development, wealth creation and capacity building for the youths. Drawing a curtain on the four-day fiesta is a special 40th birthday tribute dance concert to be preceded by an industry award ceremony. 

“This year, I’m going to be 40; I’m still strong. I will also be marking 20 years of being on stage in this industry, sacrificing, pushing, crying, pulling and being victorious about one thing; dance! So, this year, we are scaling it higher, which has led to us extending TDWC to four days instead of three.”

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She continued: “Dance can change lives, that is why I created the idea of a conference and called it ‘The Dance Workshop and Conference (TDWC) Africa. We needed an atmosphere whereby we can have conversations with multiple sectors of the economy, and bridge the gap between the informed and the uninformed, to say this is all the information on how you can use your talent to create wealth for you.”

Recalling her early days as a dancer, Kaffy said, “When I started, what gave me confidence was going to the National Stadium; I used to train people for free. For three years, I trained people on Dance For Fitness; that was around 1997-1998. Then, dance was just for fitness for me then.”

However, her encounter with a female dancer at the National Theatre changed the whole plan.

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“I observed one particular woman, she wore a Jalabia gown to trains and was very shy and timid; she wasn’t proud of her body. Next time, I noticed, she wore Boubou. Another time, I saw her wear a tracksuit; her self-confidence was obviously improving. She walked up to me one day and told me her testimony. She revealed how she nursed pains in different parts of her body, but all that has gone now. Right now, she is in a better place with her husband and her home. That was when I knew that Dance is what I wanted to do.”

Meanwhile, Kaffy’s childhood dream was to become an aeronautic engineer.

“When I was growing up, I was asked what I wanted to do and I said, ‘I wanted to do what will matter to my country.’ When and how dance can transform a life, I knew it. So, I started using dance from that moment and for that purpose. Before I knew it, the Basketball community recruited me as a female trainer. I went to Olabisi Onabanjo University and I set up the first female basketball team there from girls that didn’t like to play anything. The idea of impacting people has been there from the start, but it wasn’t borne from a desire to outdo anyone or compete,” she noted.

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For Kaffy, dance expression is all about mood, the occasion and the message in the lyrics of the music.

“That’s what drives me,” she noted, adding, “That’s why sometimes, songs that don’t really have positive messages, I’m not very excited at expressing them. If I dance to a song that does not make sense, it is because I have keyed to something else inside the music and shut myself away from the lyrics.”

Though a contemporary dancer, Kaffy infuses native African moves into her dance routines, which stands her out from the rest.

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“I’m an active lover of our culture, that’s why I infuse Bata dance into my choreography pieces because I find them very intriguing and fascinating. If you look at the Swange dance, the movement and footwork are out of this world. We don’t celebrate our own thing that much. I do infuse culture into my dance expressions that is why some say they don’t understand some of my moves. It’s for this same reason we invited the Ooni of Ile-Ife to be part of The Dance Workshop and Conference last year. I recall telling him that there’s too much damage done to our culture during the slave trade era by colonialists and missionaries. They deceived us by selling the idea that our cultures are evil and diabolic. They failed to distinguish the art and richness of our culture; instead, they condemned everything because they termed shrine worship as evil. I told Ooni that we should start having culture hubs with great artistic aesthetics that will be accessible to all artists irrespective of religion or creed. This is how both the creative and cultural elements of dance will interact and grow among young people,” she said.  

On her assessment of the dance scene in Nigeria, she said, “It has grown geometrically in popularity, but it has plateaued in technical delivery. Due to the influx of trending dances, the voice of rigorous and discipline art of dance is being silenced. Sometimes when I do some proper choreograph, while some would like it, some others would dislike because it doesn’t feature popular trending dances like Gbese. Even if we want trending dances to become sustainable, we need to approach it like a science. For instance, wherever I have taught Shaku Shaku dance, 90 per cent of the time, my students grabbed it at once.”  

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As for her influences, she said, “People like Bill Gates drive me with the idea that I can have a global impact on people. I want to express myself, understand people and have emotional intelligence, that’s why I read the likes of John Grisham. When I want to feel like I need to understand how to globally dominate, I study people like Bill Gates and Oprah; I just study to understand how they are. When it comes to dancing, Michael Jackson is one of my greatest influences; not just from the idea of him being Michael, it’s about the essence connecting to God’s grace. As a person, I always marvel at that grace. It influenced; that freedom of how he just became himself.”

On how she balances career with her domestic responsibilities as mother and wife, she explained, “First of all, being married and a dancer was a very gruesome journey for me because nobody prepares you for what happens in marriage. But because of the love and fear of God, we are able to move on. I won’t tell you that my marriage was rosy, no, that’s a lie. It was devastating; it was so gruesome that I went into depression and came out of it. I can tell you these because we can’t continue to tell people a lie. We need to let people know that we can go through stuff and get out of it. God set up us to be able to encourage people to overcome the things we went through.”

As for motherhood, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to my life; God used motherhood to compensate me for all the pain. God blessed me with two amazing gifts; my children are a reassurance. They are also gauge to what I can or cannot do because now, I’m conscious that I have to lead by example. I’m their greatest inspiration; they absorb me like milk and honey. I’m afraid to misbehave because these kids are going to take it from mommy. I had two Caesarian sessions and I worked from conception to delivery. I remember I had to work five days into my CS when I was carrying my first child; I have an amazing healing body that doctors marvel.”

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