Street dancers in Sierra Leone have a bad reputation – they’re often branded as thieves and troublemakers. Dance troupe Roughest Bounds does much to challenge this image. The group, made up of 12 members, is determined to make it big, despite social and financial struggles.
Slim, 17, has been dancing since he was seven.
“When I started dancing at school I realised I had a talent,” he says. “People told me I was good and it felt so great to dance and be applauded. I decided I really wanted to pursue this.”
But the road has not been easy. Slim’s father kicked him out of his house, telling him that he couldn’t make money dancing in Africa.
Now the group stays together in a two-room apartment belonging to their manager, Samuel, who spotted them dancing on the streets last year and decided to support their talent.
They share three thin foam mattresses. Samuel’s father has urged him to stop helping them and the group has been asked to move out next week.
Roughest Bounds practise every day from 2pm until 7pm, both in their neighbourhood and on their rooftop. Crowds of neighbours will often stand around, cheering and applauding.
Before they perform in public, the group always prays together. Slim says it’s important for their morale.
The little money they make comes from dancing in competitions, dance battles and at weddings.
“This year we’ve won three battles,” says Slim,
“Each time we were given between 100,000 to 300,000 leones (£9-£27; $13-$39). When we dance at weddings they just give us small tips. The money doesn’t last long – we usually use it to buy our costumes for the next performance.”
In the picture above, the group is dancing for free to a crowd, to publicise a dance battle they will perform in on Saturday.
Each member of the group wears a necklace with their name and initials which stand for “Roughest Bounds Crew” written on it.
The boys are very short of money and some days will go without food, or with only one small meal.
Slim attends school in the morning. He says: “I know I want to be a dancer but I also need to finish my schooling.”
He was due to sit public exams in January.
Every evening, after dance practice, the boys sit together on their balcony and discuss routines for their next performance.
In this instance, they’re talking about how to choreograph a show at a hotel in Freetown – the theme was Sierra Leonean tradition.
Slim shows off some of his stunts.
He says that his big dream is to dance in America or Europe to show the people there that “we do have talent in Sierra Leone”.
All photographs © Olivia Acland