Dance Featrue: Kamuhangi (Issue 17)
Celine Kamuhangi, a 23 year old Ugandan dancer, choreographer and self described #AfricanMusicAmbassador, is carving a space for herself in the Afro-beat dance scene. And with a combined follower count of 112,000, and having recently opened for Fireboy DML in concert, Kamuhangi is making moves around the world – literally. (You can follow her on instagram @kamuhangi and TikTok.)
Mixed Mag caught up with her via zoom, while she was visiting family in Uganda, to discuss representation in dance, and why this avenue of self expression has been so transformational for her.
MM: What does dance mean to you?
KAMUHANGI: Dancing, for me personally, is a release. It’s about feeling. I wouldn’t say I’m like the most energetic dancer, but if you watch my videos, it’s really all about feeling and reacting to the feelings around me. It’s a way I can express myself.
MM: You are Ugandan born and raised, but moved to LA as a teenager. Do the two influences show up in how you think about dance and choreography?
KAMUHANGI: Definitely. I may live in California now, but I’m an African in the diaspora. Africans in the diaspora are home away from home and one of the ways we connected was through music and dance at events, celebrations, or just a regular hang. I actually have them to credit for a lot of the Afrobeats dances I now love. The way I see it, dance is about storytelling, which is why I’m mostly drawn to Afro-beats and African dance. When I started out dancing, I was a kid and what there was was cultural Ugandan dance. If you know anything about African dance, its always telling a story. Even in West African dances, the dance moves usually mean something, whether it’s to signify a certain stage in life or celebrating a milestone, there’s always meaning.
MM: Has it been challenging breaking through the dance scene with your love for African music in a city like LA?
KAMUHANGI: Initially, for sure. Right now most of my audience is not American, so in terms of getting traction in the States, it has been a little challenging. But I think now with all the [social media dance] challenges and all of the new music collabs that are happening, a lot more of Afrobeat music is being listened to and that helps fuel your content. If you’re dancing to a song that’s going viral in America, like a collab from Rema, your content will do better because the music is being listened to out there. I think Afrobeats Music is kind of getting a bit more recognition in America right now, there is a bit more growth in that space.
Working in the events space like I did in LA, I remember when [Afrobeats parties] used to be a small little room with only African people, now they are some of the biggest events in LA! It’s crazy to now see how much it’s grown. It’s no longer just Africans, it’s now people from different kinds of cultures. I saw the work that went into getting Afrobeats the recognition it deserves, it’s nice to see the growth and appreciation. It’s been a long time coming!
MM: Talk to us about your journey. It feels like you became an overnight sensation after your first viral dance videos. Did it take you by surprise?
KAMUHANGI: Yes! I had never really danced for my Instagram followers before. I’m also in the digital marketing space, so when I was trying to like working with my clients, I used to use myself only as a test subject. This was as recent as a couple of years ago when I was trying to figure out what niche would fit [me] better. A lot of the people around me suggested I dance, but it never crossed my mind. I only danced on Snapchat, like for my friends friends – less than 100 people that I personally knew, but a couple of people were really pushing me to post more publicly. My sister kept saying I should teach dance. One day, literally on my way to a shopping trip, I got out of the car and decided to record a quick video, a dance challenge to ‘My Touch’ by Eugy. And it went viral! It was moves that I loved, which is why I did it in the first place, but [after that] I started to take content creation seriously for myself, versus doing it for other people. But believe me, I really never saw myself in front of the camera!
MM: What lessons have you learned on this journey? Have you cultivated some Do’s and DON’TS for yourself?
KAMUHANGI: I’ve learned a lot about my mental health and like how to protect that. It’s been vital for me to set boundaries and lean into having safe spaces and knowing my safe spaces in people. I’ve learned to listen to myself. I’ve struggled with my mental health and have kind of been forced to learn how to protect my mental space by having solid boundaries. I don’t take every single offer. I’m very particular about what I do creatively. I don’t dance in music videos, I’d only creatively direct it or choreograph or both. I’m not into the twerking space, not that it’s not a great space as well. but I also tried to stay away from that because I feel like I would get a lot of unwanted attention. I also don’t collab with men that much just because of my personal boundaries.
I know, I have a lot of followers, but I don’t think I fully understand how many people watch my videos. I won’t even open some videos, depending on how well they do. So the comments, I don’t quite see them. My comments are off. Instagrams doing a great job with blocking certain words, certain comments, you can just do that in your settings. I don’t know, the online space is a very different space. A Lot of people feel entitled to having an opinion on my life, on my weight loss or weight gain, it’s crazy. I try not to let it get to me, which is maybe also why I’m a bit more private on Instagram outside of dance work.
MM: Has being on such a big platforms changed the way you view yourself?
KAMUHANGI: I wouldn’t say so, but I’ve definitely grown as a person in this space. When I initially started dancing, a lot of the comments I got on my videos were that I did not look like a “dancer”. I’ve been dancing for so long but only recently started sharing it with the world because my image was something I was insecure about and thought the world would have a lot to say about, which they did. When I decided to post content, I had done the work within myself and felt like I was ready to share my passion despite the noise. For this very reason, I think that’s why representation matters.
MM: What advice do you have for the people of the internet?
KAMUHANGI: There are countless ways to benefit from the internet but it can also be detrimental. To everyone out there, I’d definitely say ‘before you comment on someone’s body image, drink some water and mind your business.’ Act accordingly you guys. It’s not nice. Just stay away from it. It wouldn’t be nice if someone did that to you.
To the creators that get those kinds of comments: block block block. And try not to take it too deeply, they don’t know you. They are just another person on the internet.
MM: What things are you excited to try achieve next?
KAMUHANGI: Yeah, I this year, I want to, like, I’m really looking for big partnerships in America, which is a harder thing just being African and also also my viewers are Africans in the diaspora. So it just depends on how good my networking is, I guess. I also want to, like help content creators grow in Uganda as well! That’s one of the things I want to do. I know they don’t get paid too well, right now and it’s hard. It’s hard as a content creator here [in Uganda], that’s all I can say.
I do want to kind of take my content up a notch. I want to choreograph on the big stages, definitely. Coachella for sure. Still Afrobeats, I definitely want to stick to my space since it’s what I know. I also want to choreograph for animations long term!
I want to work with a diet drink like Diet Coke, preferably Diet Sprite – that’s definitely one of the things that I’ve always wanted to do. I love a good time having a nice drink that I just love. But then I also know I don’t like sugar. So yeah, I’m not like a sugar drinker. My grandma drinks Diet Coke. Anything diet she’ll drink. And now I’m an advocate for if you have to drink it let it be diet. Yeah, I know soda is really bad for you, but I can’t lie. It’s one of those things that I still find myself getting here and there, and if it’s diet it makes me feel better!
A Vans partnership has always been my dream. I’ve been a Vans lover since I was a child and I always tell myself it’s Vans first before anything! And it’s funny because I now live in California. I am a Cali girl! That’s just a few dream deals for now. But I want to do a lot more like as not just Kamuhangi the dancer but as Celine. Because I have a lot of plans and passions – small passion projects that I definitely want to start.
MM: What do you want to leave people feeling?
KAMUHANGI: I definitely hope people smile when they see my videos, and kind of feel what I’m feeling when I’m dancing, which is a lot of joy. Be kind. Spread love, less hate. You can really do anything you put your mind to, whatever your little dream is, it can truly come true. There’s really no limit to anything, which is one thing I think Ugandan or African people need to hear as well. There’s really no limit to it. If you want to hit the Grammys, you will reach the Grammys. Whatever it is you want to do, you are 100% capable of doing it. I was literally a regular girl. I’m still a regular girl