Eunice Dania set a record at the Department of Physical and Health Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife when she made first class;
the first time in 28 years, despite being a dancer who performed at different events regularly. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, the 25-year-old, who also made Distinction in her Master’s programme, talks about her days in school and the level she’s taking her dancing passion to
The basic understanding many people have about Physical and Health Education is the one they did in primary school. What does this course entail at the tertiary level?
Physical and Health Education is deeper than the layman’s definition of it. It is a subject matter that touches every aspect of life. Through involvement in activities, individuals can develop themselves mentally, physically, emotionally and socially. It helps individuals to make meaning of the world around them and think critically by exploring health-related and movement contexts. It also takes a preventive approach, rather than a curative one, towards the incidence of diseases. It entails the mechanics and analysis of movement (biomechanics), socialisation (sociology), understanding of the structures and functions of the human system (anatomy and physiology) and the study of mental practices (psychology) towards promoting purposeful and goal-directed movement for healthy living (kinesiology).
You must have had deep interest in the course to have first class in it, was it the course you had always wanted?
I wanted to study International Relations but I was given Physical and Health Education. I decided to take up the course, but I sat the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination again hoping to change to drop the course. I realised the course was more than I had perceived it to be, so I began to love it and I stuck with it. However, I had the plan to have first class but it didn’t come easy, especially from Obafemi Awolowo University, and a department that had not produced a first class in 28 years. It was challenging but I was able to overcome the challenges through prayer, hard work, discipline and determination.
How many of you had first class in your department?
I was the only one in my set.
How would you have felt if you didn’t make first class?
Although, it is not the determinant of success in life, I still would have been devastated because of the efforts I put into it.
Would you know if there was anything people didn’t do for those 28 years that you did?
I don’t think I did anything that had not been done before, so I really cannot say why it was difficult and my department had the best lecturers I can think of. But as I said, I prayed, worked hard and smart, avoided procrastination, attended lectures, read my books and gave my best. Every individual has their own style and pace of learning. I had to take the time to figure out what worked for me, recognise and improve on my weaknesses and capitalise on my strengths; always ready to know more and constantly seeking ways to improve on myself. I have never been comfortable with ‘average’. I believe that has always been the reason why it’s either I give my best to something or I don’t attempt it at all. Excellence and greatness have a price; they never come easy. It involves working hard and smart, discipline, faith, determination and commitment. These principles have always been my watchword and applying them without any second thoughts has always worked for me.
Were there things about your growing up that prepared you never to settle for average or it has to do with personal decision?
All thanks to God and my parents who gave me the needed support (advice, discipline, encouragement and memories). Growing up was fun and memorable. Those memories cannot be forgotten, because they came along with several experiences, lessons and values which have helped in shaping and moulding me into the woman I’ve grown to become. I can’t seem to forget study time with my parents. Dad was my mathematics teacher. He would help me with whatever difficulty I was having in the subject. Mum, on the other hand, would wake me up every night to study. Sometimes, she would sit with me all through the night to make sure I was not dozing off and ask me questions afterwards. Any question missed would attract several strokes of the cane. It wasn’t tea party for me, but those days prepared me for the future and I’m glad about the progress I’ve made so far. In my previous schools, I always had impressive performances. I remember bagging the prizes in all subjects except Yoruba in my secondary school. I always took first position both in primary and secondary school.
Apart from being the best in your department, were there other awards you won as an undergraduate?
Yes, I won the most outstanding female and most academic sought-after female of the department. I also won the Prof. Babatunde Fafunwa award for the best graduating student with the highest CGPA in my faculty.
What was the extreme thing you ever did for the sake of your academics?
When I read for 48 hours at a stretch.
Some people would think you would have read throughout to have that kind of result. Were you involved in other activities?
I didn’t read throughout; I was involved in other activities. I made sure I slept from 8pm to 11pm and then read from 11pm to 4am every day. Besides, I was involved in other activities. I like dancing and writing. I was in two dance crews and was the editor-in-chief of the National Association of Physical and Health Education, Recreation, Sports and Dance News and also belonged to the editorial unit in church. Those activities were equally demanding. I would travel to perform at dance events and competitions and go for overnight rehearsals, write for magazines and stay up to meet deadlines for submission. Ordinarily, I was doing rehearsals every day and the duration varied and there were times we had overnight rehearsals and I had to go to class the following morning. The most important thing was creating a balance and doing the right thing at the right time. I really wanted the best out of both worlds. It was a challenging feat but I was able to pull through with the help of God.
How did you start being a dancer and choreographer?
I started dancing from secondary school. It gets me excited seeing people move their bodies. I realised I could do some of those movements very well. I started getting interested, formed a dance crew and we performed at special events in school. The experience in the university was not any different. I joined a dance crew, performed on stage and events, and became recognised in OAU. I started getting referrals to teach people how to dance. I really can’t describe what dance means to me. I’m very passionate about it and it makes me very happy.
Was it that you went to learn it or it started since you were young?
I didn’t learn it. I realised it was something I could do, naturally. Although, as dancers, there are certain moves that need to be learnt and internalised.
Which would you consider as your biggest stage to have featured?
The best stage I ever featured was at Aso Rock at the YOUWIN conference. Having to dance in front of the then President Goodluck Jonathan was an honour. Also, I was given the ever ready member award and best female dancer award by my crew (Shake up’ crew), and best female dancer, Obafemi Awolowo University (2009). I was named the best female dancer, Malta Guinness street dance competition, 2010. These mean a lot to me.
Were your parents supportive or there were times they chastised you?
My parents didn’t know I danced in school, until they heard from friends that I was on TV. Since my academics wasn’t affected, they were very supportive.
How did you feel the first time you saw yourself on TV?
I was excited; I mean very excited. That was when I went for Malta Guinness Street dance and the judges made wonderful remarks about my performance, so that meant a lot. That was in my third year. I was really excited.
But oftentimes, people see dancers as unserious people, in terms of academics. Were there people who saw you like that?
A lot of people saw me as unserious when I was a fresher. My results proved a lot of them wrong. Most of them had to change their notion about dancers. I was given the nickname ‘unique dancer’ and ‘first class dancer’ because of that.
That venture must have raised your income significantly?
At first, it was just for fun but it fetched me some money later on. But more importantly, it gave me lots of exposure and opened doors for me to meet people. There were people who tried to discourage me. They told me to leave one for the other; that it was impossible to combine both. But, to me, I believe impossibility is nothing. I enjoyed it all the way.
Were there times your practice or events clashed with your lectures or tests?
Yes, a lot, but I always knew my primary assignment was my studies. I chose my academics over rehearsals. My performance was superb in my first year with a CGPA of 4.8. so, I learnt to prioritise.
Would you say the course you studied has helped your passion for dancing?
Even though PHE was not the course I wanted, it has in a lot of ways helped to build flexibility, stamina, strength, endurance, balance and co-ordination. It has helped my dance a lot.
If you have so much interest in dancing/choreography, why didn’t you consider going for Theatre Arts?
Dancing in secondary school was just for fun. I didn’t think I would go deeper into it while in the university. I believe Physical and Health Education was just what God wanted for me and the best course for me to build certain components and qualities that I needed to have as a dancer.
Would you want to go into full scale dancing, like a venture, or you want to practise your profession?
I would love to do both. They are interwoven and very much related. I believe doing both won’t be a bad idea.
So what are your aspirations?
To be the most sought after exercise physiologist as a result of my work and contribution to society and a strong advocate for dance to be accepted and recognised as a sporting activity in Nigeria and beyond. Also, I really would love to be a lecturer. I love writing, reading and conducting research. Being a lecturer will give me the opportunity to do that. If I’m not one, I would love to be on my own, acting as a consultant for several organisations as an exercise physiologist.
Why do you think students fail?
Misplaced priorities, inadequate preparation and indiscipline. I think students should put God first, they should be disciplined, determined and work hard. They shouldn’t listen to negative voices that tell them they can’t achieve certain things. Believe in yourself and give your best.
Men are usually attracted to ladies who know how to dance. What was it like for you?
Of course, it attracted a lot of guys, but I have a principle. I took them as friends and drew the line. So, I was able to keep friends as friends and fans as fans.
What were you doing between when you left school and when you went for Master’s?
I was working. I worked in a school, I worked in a hospital and I had some contract jobs. I actually left to do my Master’s in Exercise Physiology, which I concluded last year, because I love the academics. Right now, I’m working on my own project to gather some money before I go for my Ph.D., which costs a lot of money.