DRC’s biggest dance festival embodies the spirit of perseverance

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Virginie Magumba, 22, a professional dancer from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, prepares for the annual Goma Dance Festival, Friday, June 14

Virginie Magumba, 22, a professional dancer from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, prepares for the annual Goma Dance Festival last week [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Published On 22 Jun 2024

For Virginie Magumba, a 22-year-old professional dancer from Goma, in eastern Congo, dancing is more than just a career.

“Dancing helps me liberate myself, manage my emotions, and not feel all alone,” she said. “All that I have become I owe to dancing.”

Magumba won the prize for Best Congolese Dancer at this year’s Goma dance festival, the largest dancing event in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The annual festival, which sees dancers from all over the world flock to Goma, has been held in the city for the past seven years despite continuing attacks by rebel groups in eastern DRC. The region has long been overrun by more than 120 armed groups seeking a share of its gold and other resources as they carry out mass killings.

“This festival built me as a dancer,” said Magumba. “It showed me I could follow my dreams.”

Magumba started dancing relatively late. She watched dancers practice in her father’s sports club for years, but it was not until she was 17, newly graduated from high school and about to start a degree in humanitarian studies, when she decided to give it a go.

Over time, dancing became a sort of therapy for her. It made her forget family troubles and the violence in the region — and allowed her to keep hope.

“We try to keep hoping but it’s hard when nothing is improving. The festival embodies this spirit of perseverance.”

Although her career as a dancer gives her the rare opportunity to travel outside the country, she says she is not planning on leaving DRC.

“So many people left in recent years. But I built my career here, in my city, in my community. There are only two professional female dancers in Goma. I tell myself, ‘If I leave, who is going to show the other girls it is possible?'”

Virginie Magumba, 22, a professional dancer from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, prepares for the annual Goma Dance Festival

Magumba prepares for the dance festival at her house in Goma. “Dancing helps me liberate myself, manage my emotions, and not feel all alone,” she said. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Dancers perform in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the Goma Dance Festival, Saturday, June 15

Dancers perform in the eastern city of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Virginie Magumba, 22, a professional dancer from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, prepares for the annual Goma Dance Festival, Friday, June 14

“All that I have become I owe to dancing," said Magumba, who started dancing when she was 17. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Virginie Magumba, 22, a professional dancer from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, performs Saturday, June 15

Magumba performs on Saturday June 15 during the annual Goma Dance Festival. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Spectators look at a dance performance in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Saturday, June 15

Spectators cheer during a dance performance. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Virginie Magumba, 22, a professional dancer from Goma, cheers during the annual Goma Dance Festival, in Goma, Saturday, June 15

Magumba cheers after her performance. Magumba won the prize for Best Congolese Dancer at this year's Goma dance festival. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

A young spectator looks at a dance performance in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Saturday, June 15

A young spectator enjoys a dance performance. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

Spectators watch a dance performance in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Saturday, June 15

Spectators watch a dance performance during the annual dance festival. [Moses Sawasawa/AP]

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