August 14, 2012

Dancing in the DRC


Carmen Nicole Smith Carmen Nicole Smith
The women of the Democratic Republic of Congo exist in a society crippled by HIV/ AIDS and gender inequality. Professional dancer Carmen Nicole joined forces with ECA’S Dance to Respect and PEPFAR and traveled to Kinshasa, DRC in response to the epidemic and in an effort to empower the women who hold these communities together.

“In honor of Women’s History Month, I partnered with the National Ballet of Congo to lead an evening of dance, song, and spoken word performances at the Halle de la Gombe,” says Carmen Nicole.

“With the help of local dancers we created two works focused around issues of gender inequality.” Dunia tells the story of a small village in the Congo that learned to defeat gender inequality and stop sexual violence. The second is a ballet trilogy called Three Epochs of Congolese Woman that showed the past, present, and possible future of women in the DRC.”

The energetic show was presented to a full audience and also featured two solo performances by Carmen Nicole and an original poem about female empowerment by poet Elfia Elesse. The show closed with local rapper Lexxus Legal who rallied the audience with an HIV/AIDS awareness themed performance.

“The hope was that these empowering pieces could be something performed again and again in the smaller villages to carry the message forward after I was gone,” says Carmen Nicole.

The American dancer was also asked to participate in a panel discussion at the Ambassador’s house alongside local artists and representatives from the Department of State and PEPFAR to discuss art programs as a vehicle for social messaging.

“I answered questions about how to self-produce and share resources by creating an art community in lieu of the financial difficulties artists face.”

Carmen Nicole ended the trip promising to return and work with a shelter for street children and orphans-- helping them overcome the emotional issues they’ve faced through dance.

“I don't know how I can relay how much the program meant to me,” says Nicole. “I would say it is the most meaningful work I have done in my life. Arts Envoys connect the world and help us understand each other in so many important ways. The whole experience was magical and life changing for me. I love the people there and have since been working to return with the whole company.”

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