Dressed in a flowing gown fabricated in the French national colours and a pair of fancy silver heels, Prisca Atite and her dance partner gracefully dance to the 1930s French music with such passion and precision.
The fascinated audience watches in awe, daring to or not to join her despite the floor being open to all. It is clear they are having much fun watching the meticulous moves.
When the last hit ends, she bows out to the cheers of her enthralled audience at the French ambassador’s residence in Kampala. This was during the recently celebrated French national day in Uganda.
While the guests get champagne and food refills, I rush backstage to catch up with the exhilarating dancer as she catches a breather before her next performance.
In our brief interaction, she tells me she is an undergraduate at Makerere University. She also gives me an appointment for an interview before she goes back to enchant the guests with more of her captivating formal dance moves.
In an interview at The Observer offices, the 22-year-old shared her challenging journey to becoming a professional dancer in a society that is yet to embrace dance as a profession. Having been exposed to Disney television from a tender age, Atite developed an immense interest in singing, acting and dancing.
It is the latter, however, that has been strongly deep-rooted in her. She is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts in Arts, with majors in dance and minors in communication and gender studies.
Her impeccable dancing talent also secured her a scholarship from the Norwegian College of Dance. Although she has only completed her second year, Atite is already earning from her passion, which is incidentally her profession.
“I get hired by several people and organisations to perform various dances at events,” smiles Atite, who is also earning as a dance trainer and choreographer.
To the event where I met her, Atite said she was invited through a phone call. Born to Josephine Okello, Atite barely has any memory of her biological father. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, Rufus Okello.
“Before he passed on, my stepdad had shown me such a good life,” Atite recalls.
He once heard her sing at a parents’ day and from that moment, he knew his daughter was meant for the arts. Later, he bought her a toy-microphone. Whenever she was done with her homework every evening, he would encourage her to entertain the family – something she always looked forward to.
His death, Atite says, was such a big blow to her.
“It was a turning point for the entire family including my mom and my young brother. Our lives turned upside down,” she says.
With her number one fan out of the picture, Atite faced a hard time convincing her mother to let her become a professional dancer.
“Although it was clear to my mother that I could dance, she thought it was not a serious profession,” says Atite, who used to watch the popular So You Think You Can Dance series with her mother. Not sure of what to study, Atite decided to pursue a course in tourism at the Kampala-based Career Institute during her senior six vacations. She majored in air transport.
She had attended Aunt Milly primary school, Iganga Girls’ secondary school for O-level and East high school, Ntinda for A-level. To her, becoming an air hostess was a good substitute to dancing. But her friends, who knew how passionate she was about dancing, told her something that put her entire life and career into perspective.
“They told me about this course called Bachelor of Arts in Arts where I could major in dance without my mother finding out,” Atite reminisces.
But her secret came out when her mother’s consent was required in order for her to qualify for a scholarship funded by Norwegians. During her first semester of study, people from Norway set dance competitions in which she participated and won.
The mother was a bit disappointed, but realized how serious her daughter was about her dancing career. And the fact that Atite had beaten several other students to win the scholarship only showed how she was meant for dancing. She is now studying under the Norwegian scholarship until she graduates.
Atite says the dance industry – and the arts in general – is still nascent. As a dancer, she hopes to change the negative perception that people have towards the dancing profession.
She is proficient in various dance genres such as contemporary, Latin, ballet, ballroom and African, among others. Early this year, Atite mobilized five other dancers and they started up an organization called Dradan mwa Afrika. Their major aim is to teach dance and other performing arts to the younger generations through stories.
“My whole life rotates around dance. It has given me lots of opportunities to study, meet and work with various people from all over the world,” Atite says.
Outside dance, Atite enjoys shopping, adventure, online touring and spending time with friends.