How did you get involved with dance? How old were you?
This is a typical Western question because from a purely cultural perspective, you would be involved with dance since you are a child so for me this is a strange question. I never went to a school to learn how to dance, it would be like going somewhere to learn how to walk. We dance because it is a part of life and that’s how we express our aliveness. So to answer the question, I have always danced and I began doing so professionally shortly after I arrived in Vancouver, in 2000. I had turned down invitations to join dance and music groups when I lived in Paris and in London, but I could not deny my passion forever.
What is your proudest moment to date?
In 2013 I created a project for my village in Cameroon called the Maka Village Project to help people from my tribe create a better future for themselves, by first raising their level of self-esteem so they can take charge of their own destiny, and a festival was the very first step toward making it all happen. The festival is called FEMAK, which stands for Festival Maka. Maka is my tribe of origin, from the east of Cameroon. I wanted to create a platform for the villagers to experience and perform their own traditional dances, songs, music and stories through this cultural festival. It took the form of a dance competition. Through the celebration of the Maka culture, the youth will develop a new appreciation for their own culture and restore their traditional relationship with the elders, who in turn will be able to pass on the knowledge, like it used to be. This process of the restoration of the traditions and cultural identity of the Makas will be the starting point for the transition from the hopelessness of alcohol addiction that has plagued the villagers to a recovered sense of self, which will lead to a brighter future.
If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?
Dance is a vehicle I use to express myself and promote my culture, so even if I wasn’t dancing myself I would still be promoting African culture through events, speaking or other cultural activities. Also, I have a degree in Marketing so I guess I could have found myself holding the position of Marketing Director at some fancy big company.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I don’t know… Maybe that my hair is naturally cool the way it is? People often think that either I dye my hair or I am wearing a wig! No, it’s my hair and I don’t do anything at all to make it look the way it does. And I love my hair.
What is your next project?
A huge milestone for me, which is likely going to be life changing. I have a launch date on October 24 so I guess you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears open. I am sure you will hear about it one way or another. It’s about togetherness. Everything I do and have done so far is always about togetherness. But it will be different this time. It’s the same thing and yet, not the same thing at all… Stay tuned.
Jacky Essombe is a Vancouver-based professional dancer, dance teacher, storyteller, trainer, speaker, TV and radio show host, and ambassador for all aspects of African culture. On September 18 she performs a program of African dance and music as part of The Dance Centre’s Discover Dance! noon hour series at Scotiabank Dance Centre. www.JackyEssombe.com
Photo: David Cowan