Ugandan dance troupe performs, inspires audience

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Ugandan dance troupe performs, inspires audience

The 2012 Tour of Lights performed at Grady on Feb. 27 on its seven-week tour of the United States.

The 2012 Tour of Lights performed at Grady on Feb. 27 on its seven-week tour of the United States.

The 2012 Tour of Lights performed at Grady on Feb. 27 on its seven-week tour of the United States.

The 2012 Tour of Lights performed at Grady on Feb. 27 on its seven-week tour of the United States.

The Southerner

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The sound of drumbeats fills the air as 19 Ugandan performers file out onto the stage to meet the anticipation of a small audience.

The 2012 Tour of Light came to Grady on Feb. 27. Atlanta was the last stop on the group’s seven-week 2012 tour that started Jan. 8. In addition to Atlanta, the troupe visited San Francisco; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Charlestown, W. Va.; New York; Chicago and San Antonio.

“All of our kids get trained in Ugandan traditional music and dance so they know their culture and all that comes with it,” stage manager and board member Talitha Phillips said.

The Tour of Light is a performance troupe that travels around the country and is comprised of dancing and story telling to raise money for Children of Uganda—an organization started in 1996 to inspire young Americans to make a difference for Uganda’s more than 3.5 million orphans and “vulnerable children.” The organization aims to raise money to provide clothing, housing and education to the children in the program. The group’s emcee and artistic director, Robert Kiwanuka, organized the storytelling. Kiwanuka is a graduate of Children of Uganda who joined the group when he was 8 years old and like most children in thegroup he was orphaned at a young age. The Children of Uganda takes care of about 500 children, Phillips said, but not all of the children get to perform in the tour.

Some of the performers also appreciate getting of be a part of the dance troupe. 17-year-old performer, Jane Mamfuka, has been a part of the Children of Uganda since she was 8 months old. She said the reason she wanted to be a part of the tour of light is because when she was younger, she would see the other dance troupes go out and travel and she knew because of their hard work, she had food to eat and a place to stay. Mamfuka said now it’s her turn to make sacrifices so that others have food to eat, clothes to wear and a school to attend. 19-year-old performer, Vincent Mawejje said he enjoyed being a part of he group because he wanted to share his talent and culture with an American audience. He said he worked very hard to be a part of the group, and he saw it as a privilege. Mawejje is currently studying to be a journalist, and he said due to the love he’s seen form Children of Uganda, he wants to adopt at least one vulnerable child.

“The Tour of Light is the public face of our organization,” Phillips said. “Of the children [in the Children of Uganda], we choose the most talented to tour around.”

In addition to performing at Grady, the group came during school hours to Kevin Hill’s 2B chorus class. Many students welcomed the performers with open arms.

“We sang and they sang, and they were really, really good,” junior Victoria Dragstedt said. “You could tell they put a lot of effort into their performance.”

The chorus students were able to ask the Ugandan performers questions Dragstedt said. The performers also taught them a traditional dance, which the chorus students enjoyed.

“It was a lot of fun,” Dragstedt said. “Everyone was really into it, and they were all dancing and having fun.”

The tour relies on host families and donations for hotel rooms when staying in different cities. While in Atlanta, the performers stayed at the homes of many Grady students, including senior Elizabeth McGlamry and juniors Justin Williams, Samantha Dean and Megan Prendergast.

“My mom volunteered our house,” Williams said. “We were contacted by [Susan Muntzing] who works in the College and Career Center.”

Muntzing has a niece, Angela Lantz Smith, who has volunteered as a doctor in Uganda for the past three summers outside of Kampala, Uganda. When Muntzing found out the group was coming to Atlanta, she contacted them and brought them to Grady.

“A lot of the host families were people that volunteer in the [College and Career Center],” said Muntzing. “They were happy to help.”

While in different cities, the performers practice and perform their dances and songs and still find time to have fun.

“The kids have loved going bowling and have toured national historic sites,” Phillips said. “We even took them to gymnastics.”

The tour’s youngest performer, Winnie Kembazi said her favorite experience from the tour was meeting people of all different ages and backgrounds. Executive director of Children of Uganda, Pamela Brannon, said that Kembazi and many of the other performers were overwhelmed by the love that they were met with by their audiences and by the families that they stayed with.

Some of their host families were amazed by the “normal” American things that surprised and amazed the children.

“They had just toured Atlanta, and back at home my mom said ‘Oh I’m going to the grocery store’, and they got more excited to see a grocery store than they were about the tour [of Atlanta],” Williams said.
Phillips said that she thinks it is really valuable for the kids to learn about American culture, especially when they are surprised my something like seeing a father cooking for the household, since that is very unusual in their culture.

All of these kids have been through many hardships, and their stories have affected those who come in contact with them.

“All of [the kids’] clothes they had with them had all been donated when they came to America, so it was sad to learn that,” Williams said.

Phillips said that she first saw the tour when she was in high school seven years ago, which inspired her to volunteer for the organization and take a trip to Uganda.

“Music and dance really helps them to face the world, and for me it’s a total inspiration,” Phillips said.

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