NAIROBI, KENYA – The “Univé Gym Gala”, I’m sure every gymnastics fan knows it. These days, it no longer exists in the way it used to, but when I was a little girl, going to the Gym Gala was one of my highlights of the year. Seeing all these incredible acts from all over the world made me fall in love with other branches of the sport and on top of that, it opened my eyes to the variety of cultural interpretations there are to gymnastics and performances. In 2010, when I was fourteen years old, I saw an African Pole act for the first time. I was mesmerized by the energy of the performers, their strength and their admirable dance skills. Though, I never truly asked myself where these acrobats would have come from and I never imagined how their lives would actually look like.
About eight years later on the 1st of February, 2018, the humid and hot air of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania hit me as I left the airport. Just two days ago, I was still in Nairobi, Kenya, booking my flight to Dar es Salaam and now I was here without any clear plans or expectations. Luckily, my contact person knew some acrobats who would welcome me to join their training. The next day, I got in a tuk-tuk with two local girls who are also performers, they would bring me to the circus where they train. After a bumpy ride, we arrived at an open building, the floor was covered in thin mats and there were different apparatus standing around and hanging from the ceiling.
Working on different gymnastics disciplines
Everywhere around me, youth were working on different gymnastics disciplines. I joined a group of young men and women for the warming-up, which ended up being exhausting for me because they were all extremely tough and well-trained. As we were training together, I quickly got to know the guys and got to ask them about their work as acrobats. They were also curious about me and would ask me where I was from. To my surprise they knew exactly where the Netherlands is and even told me they had performed there. A shiver went down my spine as they told me that they had performed at the Univé Gym Gala. These were the guys who I had admired over eightyears ago. These were the acrobats I had looked up to so much. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there, training with them, getting to know them and learning about their lives.
The acrobats had grown up working at this circus called ‘Mama Africa’, they had trained their entire lives to become performers. Their talent has been nurtured and developed, despite difficult circumstances. Now, they are traveling all over the world doing performances nobody else can even imagine or attempt. They sustain themselves through international shows. One of these shows used to be the Gym Gala.
Help by creating employment
Whenever I tell people my story and the stories of the acrobats I work with, they ask how they can help. Like in any other part of the world, what truly helps them is offering jobs, keeping their talent alive, allowing them to sustain their livelihoods. In reverse, this also allows youth in the Netherlands to see different cultures and talents, from all over the world. It could open their eyes to what is out there, trigger an interest to be creative themselves. For these big shows, let’s look past the world in front of us and try to see how we can present a different form of creativity and simultaneously support an exchange of knowledge from youth from all over the world.
Follow the adventures of Véronique Sprenger and the Kangemi Acrobats on GymPOWER and also on haar Instagram-account @veronique_sprenger.
Caption archive photos:
Photo 1, Feb. 6th 2018, V. Sprenger: training area of Mama Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Photo 2, Feb. 7th 2018, V. Sprenger: Acrobats training at Mama Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Copyright article © GymPOWER | Credits text and images © Véronique Sprenger