Saturday November 17, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Artists Stefanie Weber and Monika Pizzichemi want to bring you closer to a world apart.

On Sunday, Weber will bring her perspectives and a photo slideshow on Nairobi, Kenya to Empty Set Project Space in Pittsfield, where she and gallery co-owner Monika Pizzichemi will introduce their project, "They Dance for Rain."

"There are so many things going on locally and in the world that are important. Dance and art are important because they can do something to our lives," said Weber, a dance artist who focuses on the discipline of tap.

In January 2012, she traveled to Nairobi to visit her former Americorps friend Holly Welcome Radice, who works for the UK-based NGO, Save The Children.

There, she found vibrant dance communities, both situated within the African nation’s slums and middle and upper class neighborhoods. Ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop styles were among the dance genres practiced there, but not tap.

Utilizing an online charitable fundraising site, Indiegogo.com, Weber was able to donate approximately 30 pairs of tap shoes, offer tap classes to more than 50 young adults, and hula hoop with some of the children of the Baba Dogo region.

As a dancer and teacher, Weber said the impressions and experiences she left with were profound, leaving her wanting to explore more.


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She plans to return to Nairobi in December and "kick the whole thing up a notch," she said in an online post referring to her second Indiegogo campaign for the They Dance for Rain project.

Weber has a $5,000 goal and is planning a month-long return to Nairobi. This time, in addition to bringing more tap shoes, hula hoops and instruction to the country, Pizzichemi will join Weber for the second half of the trip to document the process through film.

Weber said she hopes to continue her work with Eric Wainaina, a Kenyan singer-songwriter who connected her with the arts community in Nairobi. She also hopes to reach out to a center located just outside the city, which serves as a refuge for Masai women who have been abused and/or mutilated while living in their community.

"For some kids, dancing is a means to get off the streets," said Weber, noting that many young adults find jobs with dance companies that tour shows for theaters and cruise ships.

"For these women, I wonder if it could be fun for them, or a way to connect," Weber said.