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STUDENT SETS UP AFROBEAT DANCE CLASSES TO PASS CULTURAL HERITAGE ON TO THE NEXT GENERATION

STUDENT Christine Ngo Souhe convinced charity funders to award her £1,000 to run African dance classes for youngsters in Southampton because she was worried they were growing up not knowing enough about their heritage.

The 21-year-old, who studies at Richard Taunton Sixth Form College in the city, wowed Energise Me, a charity that empowers young people to make creative changes in their communities, with her plans for the classes.

Christine, whose family is from Cameroon, wanted to pass on her love of traditional African dance to youngsters from the ethnic communities near where she lives. She came up with the idea of Cultural Kidz, a weekly Afrobeat dance class using traditional steps, at St Mary’s Primary School for youngsters aged eight and nine and was awarded the money to set it up.

“I love dancing because of the creativeness of it, you can be as creative as you want,” she said. “My mum was always dancing when I was small and she used to put on traditional music and dance along and that’s what got me into it.”

She said although it was daunting to begin the classes, she soon got used to being out in front. “I was nervous about it at first because teaching kids can be terrifying but the more we all got used to each other the better it became,” she said.

“I loved watching them learn every step and I asked them to go home and learn a dance from their own family and the next week they came back and taught it to me. Then we added it to the routines I was choreographing and made it into something new.”

Christine Ngo Souhe leading one of her Cultural Kidz Afrobeat classes

She said she was driven to begin the classes, which feature many styles of African dance, because of the importance of cultural identity. “You don’t get very much cultural dancing here in Southampton so I just wanted to create something where kids could learn something about theirs and someone else’s culture,” she said.

“It’s important because if you don’t know about the place where you come from you don’t understand the culture and you don’t learn to respect it. Also, if you can’t understand someone else’s culture you won’t respect theirs as well.”

The first class ended their term with a presentation for their parents. “It was such a beautiful moment seeing them all come together wearing traditional costume and seeing the smiles on their parents’ faces,” said Christine.

This term’s class regularly attracts ten young dancers every Thursday. Christine, who said she has had great support from Richard Taunton Sixth Form College, is studying graphicsIT and digital media and is going to study for a degree in marketing at Kingston University in the autumn.

She said: “Doing this has really brought my confidence out more. I’ve learnt that it’s better that if you have an idea to go and try it out and see what happens instead of just leaving it at the back of your head.”

The grant was awarded through Energise Me’s The Agency, a creative entrepreneurial programme aimed at inspiring young people to make social changes. Assistant facilitator Megan Smith said: “Christine is a such a bright, bubbly person who is always in good spirits and that’s what has made her a good teacher. The children love her and her enthusiasm.”

Richard Taunton principal Paul Swindale said the student’s passion has impressed staff. “We’re very proud of Christine and her determination to share her love of dance with young people and in particular the way she has used dance as an opportunity to celebrate her cultural heritage.

“We are a diverse college that promotes respect for all cultures and it is so heartwarming to see Christine take that a step further with this project. We will miss her when she leaves us but she goes with our good wishes.”