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‘Bouncing Cats’ illustrates the joy of dance

You’ve probably heard of Hepcats, Stray Cats and even cool cats, but what about “Bouncing Cats”?  This documentary, “Bouncing Cats,” shows how the African American art of hip hop has a positive influence on the children (and adults) of Uganda via Abraham “Abramz” Tekya’s Breakdance Project Uganda and will be show on the Documentary Channel, 19 Nov. 2011, at 8 p.m.

Produced by Red Bull Media House and directed by Australian filmmaker Nabil Elderkin, the documentary won awards at the Urbanworld Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival and the Southern Utah International Documentary Film Festival.

There are dark moments in this documentary when you realize that most American ghettoes would be a step up for the people living in poverty in Uganda. Tekya launched the Breakdance Project Uganda in February 2006. Tekya was orphaned at an early age, losing both is parents to AIDS. He decided to invite Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon of the Rock Steady Crew to Africa and was delightedly surprised when Crazy Legs accepted the invitation.

The documentary gives us a brief history to help viewers understand Uganda’s plight. It was a British protectorate from 1894, but from whom were the British protecting the native Ugandans? Independence from the UK was achieved in 1962, but in 1971, Idi Amin rose to power. The Uganda-Tanzania War i n1979 ended Amin’s reign of terror. The current president Yoweri Museveni has to deal with a civil war against the militant syncretic Christian group, Lord’s Resistance Army.

Jolly Grace Okot, director of Invisible Children in Uganda, has been involved and talks about the plight of children and youth who grew up being worried about abduction and surviving abduction and even slavery, sometimes returning as children with children in tow.

Historically, there has been a division between the North and the South according to the documentary. This is a forgivable simplification of matters which are to complicated a whole different movie would have been required to explain it clearly.  By language, the North is Nilotic and the South Bantu. The capital city is in the South, Kampala.

Having grown up an orphan, Tekya understands what the children of Uganda need: something to be proud of. And something that transcends the boundaries of the 52 tribes and 52 languages and the hate created by war. He grew up watching Crazy Legs and finding solace in art, especially hip hop. The skills of dancing are something they can own, something no one can take away.

Crazy Legs encourages the Ugandans to show him their native dances and shows them some b-boy stylings, loving the innocence in Uganda that has perhaps been lost in the U.S. And people are eager to learn, more people than Crazy Legs and his small crew (Anthony “Ynot” Denaro and the Long Beach-raised Ervin Arana) imagined, show up and even wait outside.

Hip hop crosses generation gaps and tribal boundaries.  “Hip hop owes Africa,” Somali musician and poet, K’Naan explains. Through contact with international hip hop artists, the people of Uganda use computers and learn computer skills in a place where few families own computers and have Internet access.

The innocence is seen in the pure joy of moving and performing and giving other people the joy of music and dance.

Director Elderkin doesn’t shy away from the evidence of war and poverty. The mutilated face of one man is seen in close-up as well as his arms that end in stumps. He was used as an example. His ears, nose and hands were cut off and he was sent back to his village. Yet he doesn’t express hate. He expresses hope for the future of Uganda and his children and we see his delight as he learns how to dance.

Narrated by Common, with interviews with Mos Def, Will.I.Am and K’Naan, this documentary reminds us of the power of one determined person, and the power of dance to unite and heal. “It is the articulation of the breadless people,” K’naan comments. “And that in itself becomes bread….It is what ignites practical solutions.” And dance can be an international language.

“Bouncing Cats” airs on the Documentary Channel (DISH Network Channel 197 and DirecTV Channel 267) on 19 Nov. 2011 at 8 p.m. (EST)

All scheduled screenings:

  • 19 Nov. 2011, 8 p.m.
  • 19 Nov. 2011, 11 p.m.
  • 25 Nov. 2011, 6 p.m.
  • 29 Dec. 2011, 2:30 p.m.
  • 26 Jan. 2012, 9:30 p.m.
  • 27 Jan 2012 12:30 a.m.
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