Uche Onah, a professional dancer and choreographer in Lagos, Nigeria sits with the CPC, Dr. Folakemi Ogungbe and shares out of his thirty seven years cognate experience in the Nigerian theatre space.
By Dr Folakemi Ogungbe
Uche Onah has been in the Theatre industry of Nigeria for thirty seven years. Uche, who began his career without a former education, later became a graduate of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. Uche is a choreographer, a contemporary dance teacher, a professional dancer and sometimes cross carpets as a director, stage manager or a project coordinator.
Most of the successful musical plays in Nigeria has been choreographed by Uche Onah. They include “Heartbeat”, “Mamma Mia”, “Ada the country” and so on. Uche also has a personal project called “Exodus” which is targeted at youths on the streets of Lagos, where he uses dance to positively influence their lives. Uche also has a workshop for actors called “Actors can Dance” where he teaches actors to be versatile and to be able to dance and act at the same time. Uche is hoping to take his dance workshops to Ghana and Togo.
Uche believes that dancers in the Nigerian theatre space should be given more recognition and should be acknowledged for the very hard work that they do. They should also be remunerated well and treated well during rehearsals.
Speaking of the highest point of his career, he spoke on winning a competition that took him on a tour for three years. During this tour, they performed in fifteen European countries and twenty African countries. He said this particular tour has enriched his life tremendously.
In his leisure time, Uche works with his wife, who has a children dance group were they help keep children off the streets by actively engaging them in dance lessons. They sometimes also help to pay the school fees and support the children’s education. They also support children with Down syndrome and Autism.
To aspiring dancers, Uche warns that the financial remuneration is not fantastic and that dancers should come into the profession because they are willing to learn and grow a career and not because they see it as an opportunity to travel, meet celebrities or make a lot of money as theatre is not lucrative in that sense and you have to pay your dues.
Despite his long and vast experience as a choreographer and professional dancer in the Nigerian creative space, Uche still struggles to get his name on the fliers and billboards advertising shows that he has choreographed. He says he literally fights with show producers every time and his grouse with them is that if you don’t give dancers the recognition they need, how will they be known and celebrated and at the end of the day, help to sell your show?