Africa is art. There are a million elements that unarguably make her the most “colorful” continent of the world and one of them is dance; pure, rhythmic, spirited body movements that are a foremost way through which Africans – and extensively all black people – express their happiness; and Izzy Odigie is a Nigerian dancer that is doing all she can to introduce Afro dance steps to newer audiences and establish them in the hearts of already familiar ones.
Izzy is 25 years old and she was born in New York, even though most of her formative years were spent in the historically wealthy city of Benin in southern Nigeria. She later went back to study in New York and the experience of having tasted life as a black woman in both cities informed her decision to build the pan-Africanist mindset that she has today.
She is so deeply immersed in her love for her motherland that she co-founded a community of dancers who have contemporary African dance as their forte and are called the Trybe. Even more, Izzy Odigie is presently touring the world; spreading the gospel of Afro dance to the entire globe like the Saints did Jesus’ message.
“This isn’t my first tour. This is my fourth year doing it, but my fifth dance tour,” the very celebrated dancer narrates. “I started touring in 2017; I had just graduated college. I started in North America, then I went to Japan in my third year, and now I am doing four continents in one year. The idea is to connect with Pan African culture, hence the name PAP which is an abbreviation of Pan African Passport.”
Today, the one-time Edo state girl who used to dance for fun has become a globally-celebrated choreographer, but it wasn’t always violets and roses. She had challenges that took consistency, commitment to the process, and hard work to overcome. Today, she is touring continents and leaving her footprints in the sands of time.
“It’s very interesting. I feel blessed doing the things I have always wanted to do. But obviously, starting off, I had to pay a lot of dues to get exposure. So I was kind of experimenting a lot, trying to find something that would work for me. I would say a lot of the struggle was in trying to prove my worth in society.”
As somebody who has been in the scene for so many years, Izzy has become a force to reckon with and an authority when it comes to contemporary dance from Africa. “I have been dancing my whole life. Well for Afro, it wasn’t till 2014 that I took it as a career. I was still in college.”
As regards comparing African dance to dance from other parts of the world, this is what she had to say:
“I haven’t really experienced much of the dance from other parts of the world. Most of the time when I travel, I am travelling because I have been called to showcase African dance. But from the little that I have seen, if I am to compare with the commercial market in America, we do have a long way to go. Especially when it comes to the structure of our community. But I would say Afro styles are very vibrant, soulful, all about personality, and full of swag.”
Even beyond the very act of dancing, the uber-talented woman is involved in other expressions of her super-creative mind.
“So I started my jewelry business last year. That’s a new venture that I am very excited about. Even in the dance sphere, there are other things that I do. I am a creative director to some degree. I direct dance projects. I have done projects for Wizkid, I have performed with Burna. Down to my styling, I style myself. Basically, I am a creative person in general.”
These prove her to be an incredibly industrious person, but Izzy believes that even beyond actual skills, one’s mindset is very important when it comes to building relevance for themselves in entertainment spaces. The dancer says: “Take your time. Don’t do things prematurely. There were a lot of times earlier on in my career that I felt a lot of opportunities should have been mine which honestly I feel if I was given the chance then, I would have messed it up. You need to understand that things happen in time. The only thing you can do is to relentlessly focus on yourself. Keep creating and your time will come.”
Furthermore, she couldn’t help but talk about why women should not be limited by society and how even though she wasn’t marginalized for being a woman in her beginning years, there are lots of up-and-coming female dancers who face unnecessary marginalization for simply being women or black people.
“As a woman, maybe not me particularly, but I see how female dancers don’t get the respect they deserve. For instance, in the African space, your value as a dancer is very much connected to the artist that you are co-signed with or the artist that you perform with. Most of the time, if you are able to roll with artists, you are seen as cooler. However, if a female dancer is being seen with a particular artist over and over, the first thing that comes to mind is that she is involved sexually with the artist. It is a wrong notion that should be eradicated.”
Still, at the end of the day, all that Izzy Odigie truly desires is creative and sustainable financial freedom.
“I would say to be able to create when I want, how I want, and with whoever I want. To me, that is success.”