Zela Gayle

Cindy Claes is a dancing backpacker from Belgium who had dreamt about discovering the world as a child and told her family from an early age that she would move out of Belgium to fulfill her dreams, and that is exactly what she did.

Cindy joined a local hip-hop crew aged 16 becoming a lead dancer and decided to move on to accomplish her first backpacking challenge.

Travelling with a purpose of learning and researching dance cultures around the world means Cindy often pushed herself to live beyond her fears and become “a citizen of the world”.  Cindy showed how brave she could be from her very first backpacking trip to Niger when she was only 17. A few days before her arrival in the country the late President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara was shot to death by dissident soldiers in April 1999. It was Cindy’s mother nightmare come true, but Cindy flew out confident and stayed there safe and sound.

Multi-talented and multilingual, Cindy has no communication problems speaking fluent French, Dutch and English not to mention the invigorating language of dance. In her journey so far she has met African hip-hop artists, rappers, DJ’s and dancers, which was a real eye opener to understanding the worldwide influence of hip-hop culture.

Back in Belgium, becoming a dancer was not considered a profession. No system in higher education existed for the young aspiring talents of Cindy Claes. She then chose the nearest field of study which supported her dream; sociology and anthropology, gaining masters in sociology at 22.

In an exclusive interview with Addis Standard, Cindy says “my experiences as a professional dance-backpacker happened under many different circumstances; firstly, touring within a dance company, I was looked after, but my desire was to move from Belgium leaving my homeland to develop my craft in dancing, choreography and creative writing.”

She says dancing and travelling takes on a whole new meaning: “You discover another reality, another culture, another belief, another society through the eyes of artists who are often the ones who create specific work that questions society; it’s the most fascinating experience.”

Cindy takes her traveling as a dream to be more challenged and to grow artistically. “I’m happy and proud to say that taking the risk to leave everything behind has paid off!” Now living in Brixton, London, she says the city offers her new opportunities to grow and expand artistically.

Her work is now centered in Hip-Hop Theatre and dance drama receiving awards and various grants to support her choreographic work. She believes grant awards have helped her gain recognition and validation in the industry. At the end of 2010, Cindy had received The Bonnie Bird UK New Choreography award which had enabled her to travel to Jamaica to set up international exchanges of teaching and collaborating with Jamaican dance artists.

Paving the way to something new, Cindy now trains  dancers from deprived areas, where gang culture is very present, into Theatre. She is the founder of “Spread Expressions” which is currently taking the experience of “dancing backpackers”, into a television series to several countries of Europe, USA and Africa.

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