The first part of my interview with Soukaina M-L Edom was an exciting ‘how well do you know me’ segment, in which I told her versions of her life that I knew (or thought I knew rather) and she clarified the facts.
From learning that Soukaina is her nickname to learning that she was not Senegalese-as I thought-, the importance of giving people a voice to tell their own stories was reiterated in that moment.
Marie Laure Charlise Emma (Soukaina) Edom was born, raised and educated in Paris, France but she is of Guadeloupean heritage.
“My parents originally are from Guadeloupe – FWI (French West Indies), so I always say that I’m from Guadeloupe because that’s where my heart belongs,” she says.
At the age of 13, Soukaina moved back to Guadeloupe and the dance bug hit.
“I lived in Guadeloupe for three years of my teenage life and that’s where I studied dance seriously, [starting] with modern jazz,” she explains.
However, this was not a random epiphany, It was Soukaina’s childhood dream to become a professional Dancer.
“I remember watching dance on TV and always being mesmerized and I wanted to be in a dance school,” she says.
Her wish came true and her journey took off in an impressive way while in Guadeloupe.
“I was in the class of famous jazz dancer, instructor and choreographer, René Deshauteurs, he passed away 2 or 3 years ago, I was the youngest and I was taking his class everyday,” Soukaina says.
At 16, Soukaina went back to France and enrolled at the Académie Internationale de la Danse, taking dance classes in the morning, academic studies in the afternoon and more dance sessions in the evening.
She studied different genres, from ballet to tap, modern jazz, flamenco as well as anatomy/physiology and history of dance for the next 3 years.
With her experience mounting, Soukaina got a job to co-head the department of modern dance at the SERMAC, a cultural village established by Aimé Césaire (leader of the literary Négritude Movement) in Martinique, a sister island of Guadeloupe and subsequently went back to Guadeloupe and taught in 3 cultural centres.
Now 22, her next move was to apply for a scholarship to study professional dance at the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York City.
Getting a scholarship did not work out as swiftly as she hoped and her plans took a little detour. A friend (an alumni of Joeffrey Ballet School and former dancer at Alvin Ailey Dance company) helped her get a student visa to study through Joeffrey Ballet School in New York, also taking other dance classes such as Modern (Horton, Limon) Jazz, African and Haitian dance, tap, capoeira … in other studios in the big apple (NYC). To survive, she worked on the side at Lincoln Centre and through hair braiding.
“I had my little savings, I said I would find a job right away and I managed,” says Soukaina.
While there, her mother phoned and told her that her scholarship was approved. She enrolled at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York City for 2 years. After graduating, she alternated between Guadeloupe and New York over the summers. At 29, she got married to her Zimbabwean partner and had her first son at 30 and the second one at 32.
In 1996, her move to Zimbabwe with her family saw her immerse into the local dance scene immediately. First as the interim Artistic director of the Tumbuka dance company for 2 months, then as a coordinator for the dance-training program (DFC) at the National Ballet -now called Dance Trust of Zimbabwe- for the next 18 years.
Soukaina felt it was time to use her wealth of knowledge to continue giving back to the local dance community and the idea for launching AfriKera Arts Trust surfaced in October 2014.
“I had decided during the year 2014 that it was time for me to intensify my purpose in my own terms,” she says.
Part of Soukaina’s goals is to include more women of colour in the Zimbabwean dance fraternity. One of the first steps towards this was through the Essence of Women Dance Ensemble, which she co-founded in 1999 and this is the same concept she is aiming for with the AfriKera Arts Trust.
“I did see that when I ran the training program I always had more boys than girls. In this one [new AfriKera intake of students], there is two-thirds boys and one-third girls” she explains.
Soukaina and I walked into the office section of the dance hub and two dancers were replaying visuals of their performance from the previous week.
“I have seen the correction,” says dancer Chaleen Chimara speaking to Soukaina about her contemporary solo performance. “We keep on working on that solo,” says Soukaina in response.
That is the mantra of her academy, continual improvement and growth for her dancers.
Enrolled students attend class 5 days a week from 8.30 to 5pm and their curriculum includes Ballet, Floor Barre, Pas-de-deux, Modern (Graham, Horton), Contemporary, Ballroom/ Latin dance, Traditional Dance (Zimbabwe, SADC Region, West Africa), Drumming, Anatomy and Yoga. Students also take English, Bookkeeping, Voice and Physical Theatre “so that they can manage their lives”.
With the AfriKera Professional Dance Training (APDT), Soukaina offers a holistic approach to learning dance. The idea is to produce well-rounded dancers who are not only multi-faceted performers but are also business savvy and able to manage their careers professionally.
“I tell them you have to have contracts, so in English [class] they learn to do their CV, to read contracts, things like that,” says Soukaina.
Soukaina recently enrolled in a Master’s Degree programme in Arts and Culture Management with The Rome Business School and is well on her way to propel AfriKera Arts Trust to an academy of International standard.
“I am not staying in my comfort zone, [I] always try to equip myself to better fulfill my duties,” says Soukaina.
WATCH: AfriKera Arts Trust At A Glance.