For Catherine Douglas, extending her dance knowledge is like giving herself permission to be. Especially, when this is directed at female students. You feel it through her eyes. Diligently tracking every motion, curving with precision in preparation for the ascent, and each moment is sacred.
To teach another woman and have them take up space, affirms her purpose. Notably so, in a country where there are still significantly fewer professional female dancers, and once you break it down by genre, the stats are even more sobering.
“I think I was born a dancer,” she says with an unreserved smile. Growing up in the depths of Mabvuku, a high-density suburb in the capital city, Catherine remembers dance as her crutch and marker of significant life events. She fondly recalls performing traditional dance through her primary school years there she had two major influences, her brother and fellow dancer Gilbert, and headmaster/playwright Ben Sibenge, who understood the essence of the performing arts and nurtured the students’ talents.
After a short break from the art in high school, she signed up for a weekend dance outreach program, before pursuing dance education full-time as part of the Dance Foundation Course (DFC) at the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe, former National Ballet in 2000. It was there that she understood that dance was no child’s play.
“I don’t want to lie, the experience was tough,” Catherine exclaimed. “We would spend the entire day dancing and the competition was intense. You need to impress whoever is teaching you, you need to be better than your fellow students.” she adds
A specific “fellow student” comes to mind, Brian Geza, with whom she often engaged in silent battles. However, Catherine enjoyed the adrenaline rush.
“It was fun. You would wake up saying, ‘I’m not going back.’ But you think, ‘I have to go!’”
The journey was worthwhile and produced a certified rounded performer, receiving accolades including the best in ballet, and traditional dance.
Upon graduation in 2003, Catherine signed up for an internship with the Tumbuka Dance Company and performed on various stages in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Malawi and Denmark, but the African contemporary dance workshop she attended in Senegal, constituted a full circle moment for her.
The 3-month intensive African dance workshops in Senegal included sessions in West African culture including dance and food. This led Catherine to her next move to teach Western African traditional dance at AfriKera Arts Trust, easily her favourite genre.
“It’s so rooted.” she says. “It’s me, it portrays me as an African woman. Yes, I can do contemporary but it’s not ‘us’. When you talk about traditional [dance], it feels like home.”
The dance genre she teaches combines different traditional dances from West Africa including Senegal, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Togo.
Catherine has also continued with the same outreach programme she participated in during her younger years, this time, as an ‘edu-dance’ instructor, education through dance, teaching underprivileged children to utilize dance as a coping mechanism for their mental well-being.
In retrospect, Catherine’s journey with dance transitioned from dance as a fun past time to dance as a career and an outlet for her own mental well-being.
Catherine feels she is living her purpose.
“Dance is everything.” she says, encouraging any aspiring female dancer who feels hindered to “just follow your dreams and you’ll make it.