We invest in local Nigerian groups and dance companies to strengthen the culture’
Praise Ekeng is a dance performer of global repute. He has brought up many people in his line of business both in Nigeria and in the diaspora. He is known with a particular brand called ‘Ijo Ugo Performing Art.’ In this interview with OHIOZOKHAI ELAKHE, he shared his experience, the meaning of his brand of art, what gives him fulfillment, the impact of his trade to society, among others. Excerpts:
What does Ijo Ugo mean and what is it all about?
Ijo Ugo is a combination of two Nigerian ethnic languages. Ūgó (an Igbo word) means Eagle (and). Ìjò (a Yoruba) means Dance; (thus) bringing the unification of the ‘dance like eagles.’ This was a vision. Eagles do dance and it is with grace (that they do so.) Ijo Ugo means Eagle Dancers or Dance Eagles…
We thought it meant Dance of Giannis Sina Antetokounmpo (nee Adetokunbo) the NBA player who also bears the name Ugo. Is he the owner of Ijougo?
No. He is not the founder of the dance and theater company… I am the founder of Ijo Ugo Performing Arts.
Kindly let us know your training to be a master dance instructor/career timeline.
I am a master dance instructor with over thirty years of experience. I studied dance and theater at the University of Calabar in 2003 and further studied Market Theater in Johannesburg South Africa. I am (the) Assistant Director of Dance at www.mangadance.org Ijo Ugo Performing Arts website is under construction.
Since when has Ijo Ugo Performing Arts been in inception and is based where?
Ijo Ugo Performing Arts is based in Cincinnati Ohio, the United States (of America.) (The company exist[s]) to promote Nigerian culture and traditions through music, dance and cross cultural bridges through community engagement. (It was legally established the 30th September, 2019) officially but (we have) been together since 2015.
What’s the usefulness of it to society?
Community Engagement is very essential. As we create programs that identify and foster unity in the society. We also educate the society about African culture and traditions. Dance creates happiness and that’s part of our plan in the society. We also create avenue to generate revenues to also assist (ourselves…)
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Do you perform and train people in both Nigerian and African dances? If yes, is it all African dances or just some? Which ones?
Yes … both alike (but) Nigerian dances to be specific. I do a bit of Senegalese, Malian and Ghanaian dances (as well.)
What is its impact so far?
The impact of Dance in the community is too numerous. We have created more than 30 shows and staged it in the States. More than 1,500 dance classes in schools and University centers as well as (we) coordinate dance classes in (two) locations every week. We have positively blessed the community through music and dance as we also donate time and resources to entities we affiliate with such as children hospitals, event and games at Ronald McDonald house, strategic partnership with other companies to promote shoe drive for Africa. We have headlined such fundraisers and I believe we are doing our best to (impact) the society we live and work and grew up in.
The Nigerian traditional dances are been learnt by which types of Americans—Nigerians born in the U.S or Nigerians who migrated there or Black-Americans not necessarily Nigerians or Non-Blacks or other Colored People?
Our culture and traditions are now shared with all White(s.)
Are Nigerians both born in the US and outside of it coming to learn?
Both Nigerians born here and all other ethnicities and tribes do so. So, we welcome Whites, Blacks and Spanish as we cultivate a unity community.
What’s a shoe drive?
PE: We gather shoes and ship (them) to places in Africa not only to Nigeria.
How many of your students have come to Nigeria? And is this how you met Mr. Antetokounmpo (who is also a Nike footwear endorser)?
I have had about (three) of my students visit Nigeria and they loved it. The Giannis (Naija-Odyssey) meeting was just because I keep doing what I am doing and someone appreciated it and asked (that) we be part of (Giannis’) event.
When is the next set of students coming?
Right now due to some restrictions and balances I have halted the African travel…
How does the average American perceive Nigerian art and culture?
(Eighty-percent) loved it when properly educated.
What about the perception of Nigeria and Nigerians?
Part of what we do is to take away the stigma that they have already perceived about us. So everyone respect(s) me and all I do for the community.
Noticed you had a premier gig with Giannis on his Naija-Odyssey film or documentary. What’s that all about and what the reason for Ijougo to be part of it?
The Naija Odyssey premiere was a great show. This is a story of Giannis in short documentation. The importance of Ijo Ugo being there was to showcase to authenticity of Nigerian culture as express by The Greek FREAK. He wanted to share my vision of showing the Western world about the deep happiness African experience.
So it is a documentary about him being a Nigerian Freak (not just a Greek Freak)?
The Greek Freak is a nickname they call him. He played for Greece and was born in Greece. I guess that’s why they call him that. (In connection to that, via research, one online source gave a caption: ‘The Greek Freak’ wants to go back to his Nigerian roots’, while another quoted Mr. Antetokounmpo saying: ‘I like ‘The Greek Freak’, but I am also ‘The Nigerian Freak’. When raising my kids, I am not just going to teach them about the Greek culture alone, I am also going to teach them about the Nigerian culture.’ —At Ohiookhai)
Which Nigerian traditional dance steps can Giannis now do?
He loves the Yoruba style and with his height (6 ft 11 inches—At Ohiookhai), it fits him. (Our agent said he) enjoyed every… music.
Has your dance group ever toured Nigeria/other African countries (or even outside the USA?) If yes, where and what has been the impact? If no, why has it not and when will it?
Our Dance Company has not officially toured Nigeria but we have invested in local Nigerian groups and dance companies to strengthen the culture. We have funded and sponsored shows organized by artiste in Nigeria. I have personally perform and (done) workshops. Ijo Ugo Performing Arts has not left the four (corners) of United States yet but we are envisioning to do so come 2023. 2000/22 was and (is) still a scary one.