A unique training ground for ballet and contemporary dancers in Nairobi

If you google “dance in Kenya”, most results will be about tribal dance shows for tourists, performed at Bomas or at hotels. But over the last several years a strong, contemporary and neoclassical dance scene has been emerging in Kenya.

Photo credit: Talisa Lanoe

Origins Dance Company, based in Karen, Nairobi, is part of this movement, engendering professionalism and technique in dancers who have mostly come from an informal street dance tradition, even learning to dance from YouTube videos. 

Origins was formed in 2019 by co-founders Juliet Duckworth, who runs The Academy of Dance and Art and dance teacher Arnie Umayam. When Duckworth returned from training abroad, she told Umayam she wished to start up a dance company there. Umayam posed a question that was pivotal for Duckworth, himself and for dancers in Kenya. He said – 

“Why not Nairobi?”

Photo credit: Talisa Lanoe

As teachers at the Academy, they saw talented children coming through their classes who had nowhere to go as professional dancers at the end of their school-age training, unless they went abroad. A means for those young people to carry on dancing professionally after 18 was a further impetus to form the company.

Origins is a contemporary based dance company trained in many genres of dance including ballet, contemporary, Afro-contemporary, jazz and tap…. Duckworth and Umayam teach all the classes. 

Photo credit: Talisa Lanoe

When Origins started, there were, of course, already great contemporary and street dancers around, working in music videos and the like, and with various dance troupes who are hired out to perform. But there was nowhere in Kenya to acquire accredited technical training, nor a performing arts school. 

Because the pool of dancers who might join the company had not had any opportunity for technical training, dancers had to be chosen on the basis of their potential.  Almost all of the Origins company joined as adults, with little or no formal training. Working with the dancers from the more advanced age of 18, Duckworth and Umayam had to completely retrain the dancers and their bodies in technical dance skills, such as hip opening and alignment, breaking physical habits they had formed over their years of self-taught dancing.

And they are constantly training. Origins is a professional dance company which employs the dancers and keeps them on a rigorous daily training schedule, staying in top shape. The dancers receive technique training and take internationally recognized qualification exams which gives them credentials they can take to auditions abroad, should they wish to go. 

Photo credit: Talisa Lanoe

The dancers do not resent the hard work. When I spoke with them, they were glowing about Origins and told me how life-changing the company has been for them. Bet Omondi mentioned that as kids they’d been inspired by their elders, brothers or sisters dancing at home, at parties. Before Origins, they had the passion, but not the training. They told me that they and many dancers have had trouble getting auditions with companies abroad because they didn’t have the right technical training. Arnold Osano said he was told by an international dance company that he didn’t have the right style. The others echoed this experience. 

The dancers all feel that they are much stronger dancers now and have gained a more diverse repertoire by adding the technical skills of ballet to their training. With this solid base, they are able to devise improvisational contemporary dance pieces, blended with ballet. 

This came into play with the creation of their most recent performance piece Home. The dynamic and heartfelt show was choreographed by British choreographer Ellie Marsh, working in conjunction with the Origins dancers. Marsh and the dancers workshopped ideas of “home”. They devised the movements around the concepts the workshopping threw up: it’s a feeling, it’s a mother’s hug, it’s being embraced by a sense of security and love, a language, where you find happiness, where there is nostalgia, where music will resonate with everyone, where there is home cooking. 

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Home showcases these ideas, via the physical interactions of the family unit. Interpreted through a melange of dance styles, life within the home is presented as fun and harmonious. Without any words, the dancers express the relationships within the family. The family then weathers a storm, both physical and metaphorical, and begin their journey to find a new home together. 


 “Nostalgic about home? It’s those little things that make you miss HOME, like the familiar scent, the laughter echoing through the rooms, and the feeling of safety and belonging. Cherish those memories and know that home will always be there for you”

This was very resonant for the dancers, not only because they collaborated with Marsh on the piece: as I finished the interview with the Origins dancers, Silvester Ouma stopped me to add one more thing: He said that apart from the family at home, Origins is their family. They are each other’s home away from home. 


Home has been performed in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Keep your eyes open for future tour dates around Kenya.

Origins Dance Company are: Alexus Ndagwa, Arnold Osano, Bet Omondi, Braqa Jones, Charles Okinda, Eddie Karani, Knight Achieng, Nyaikamba Catherine, Sharon Lollita & Silvester Ouma.

We are looking forward to Origins Dance Company’s next thrilling performance: The Little Mermaid, the beautifully haunting ballet interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale, a love story that moves between land and sea, performed with the Academy of Dance and Art.

24 & 26 May at Braeburn Theatre, Gitanga Rd. Call 0790499377 for bookings.