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Valentino: Bringing ballroom to the UG stage

DANCE: If he does not look familiar to you, go back and rewatch Winnie Nwagi’s “Jangu” video. Yes, that is Valentino Richard Kabenge and after all the years of teaching and finding joy in dance, on Sunday, he will be premiering his ‘Dance with Valentino’ show on NTV. Isaac Ssejjombwe caught up with him.

1.You have been dancing for a while. Is dance profitable in Uganda?

I cannot say I have earned a lot from dance but it has helped me survive. However, this is beyond money, it is more about a dream. I do not have any limitations because people, especially abroad, earn from dance but why not us? If I fail here, I will at least go over there to achieve more. Despite the darkness that is there at the moment, I am working at achieving light at the end of the tunnel, especially with my new initiative dubbed ‘Dance with Valentino’ which I hope will open people’s mindsets about dance.

2.What is Dance with Valentino all about?

It is basically a dance show that is going to include celebrities telling stories through dance. We are bringing the Latin and ballroom dance, which have not been on the Ugandan market. I want to pass it on to other people and to do that, I had to involve celebrities. I want to tell different stories through dance and what inspired me to come up with this initiative was the interview I had with Faridah Nakazibwe on NTV’s Mwasuze Mutya programme. We danced together and the feedback was overwhelming. It was at that moment that I decided to push that idea into reality. So far, I have already filmed celebrities such as Joanita Kawalya, Sarah Kisawuzi, Winnie Nwagi, Slick Stuart, Salvado, Bruno K and Cindy, among others.

3.We have known most of these celebrities as singers and actors, how do they fair in dance?

What happens is that you get to see them vulnerable. You see their strength on stage when they are singing but when it comes to dancing, they are like babies. It’s quite interesting but we have been giving them a week to practice in the dance studio and some of the dances you will see, include salsa, tango, rumba, hip hop and contemporary.

All the celebrities have been good but Sarah Kisawuzi was really good. Maybe because she was the first to believe in this concept. Then Joanita Kawalya; her presence and being up for the challenge, Winnie Nwagi’s willingness to open up, Cindy has a lot of passion and Salvado was so funny even in dancing.

4.What are some of the challenges you have faced as a dancer?

I have heard people say dance is not respected yet dancers invest a lot of effort in this. We are discriminated against. Actually, I was also denied a chance to be hosted on a certain TV station because the producer of the show thought I was not yet there to be granted a slot but that motivated me to work harder.

5.Why dance and did you attend any dance school?

It is all basically passion. Previously, my goal to join the arts industry was to be an actor but then dance caught my attention and so I switched.

I did not attend any school but it was an effort by a lot of people in my life and those I look up to because in Uganda we don’t have a professional Latin and ballroom school, which is the kind of dance I majored in. We just have social dance places where they just teach the basics so from those basics, I was inspired to look out for more and so I watched dance clips on the internet and shows such as Dancing with the Stars. I also got inspiration from dancers such as Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Maama Salsa, who taught me how to wiggle my waist.

TITBITs

Starting out: I went for salsa social dancing in 2013 when I was 20 years old but I started putting in effort in 2016 when I performed at an award show. It was a defining moment for me to realise that this was what I was meant to do.

Education: I started at Bright Community Primary School up to P4, then St Charles Lwanga Primary School where I completed my P.7. Then I went to Kennedy SS until Senior Two. That is where I stopped because my cousin who was facilitating my studies, he could no longer afford.

Hustle:

I sold fruits at the National Theatre, farmed mushrooms and so much more.

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