PULGA MUCHOCHOMA - ROLE MODEL & AMBASSADOR
Officially Inducted into the “National Wall of Role Models” on June 7, 2014 ( See full list www.BlackCanadianAwards.com )
BIO: Pulga Muchochoma was born in Quelimane, Mozambique, where he began his dance training and career with the Montes Namuli Dance Company. In 2006, he came to Toronto with Montes Namuli/Shakespeare Link Canada for the International AIDS Conference, and performed in several shows at venues around Toronto. When Montes Namuli returned to Mozambique, Mr. Muchochoma stayed in Toronto to study at The School of TDT. While there, he had a chance to work with many choreographers.
Tell us a little bit about yourself? I was born in a small city in the centre of Mozambique called Quelimane, with a population of almost 200,000 people. In Quelimane, I Iived with my family, was pursuing my education while I also played professional junior soccer. I dreamt of becoming a soccer star and of playing in a big stadium in Europe.
My parents raised me and my four other siblings without having jobs, so somehow we had to learn how to take care of ourselves from a very young age. I felt that playing soccer would take me to a place where I could one day take care of my family financially. But somehow the dream of becoming a soccer star ended one day during my final soccer match on a small field in Quelimane, where a traditional African dance company was doing a show before the game started.
I was warming up and getting ready to play and I stopped myself to watch them. All Iremember is that Ifell in love with the amazing way of speaking with your body. That performance changed the way I saw my future and since then I decided to try and see if I could do the same.
On February 6th of 2003 was when I took my first dance class. The passion started to grow stronger and my family began to give up on supporting me to become a soccer player. My dad would always come to watch me play soccer and every time I scored, it would make his day, but when I told him I was giving up soccer to become a dancer it was a big shock for him and the rest of my family. My artistic director told me that nobody got paid to dance and I was scared of not being able to help at home financially but I was so in love with dance to the point that giving up was the last word I wanted to hear.
My parents named me Zerito Cesar Muchochoma but when I started to perform with the company, after a lot of practice, a girl that I danced with one day told me in our official language, "PORTUGUESE" (Tu saltas como um Pulga) which in English means (You jump like a flea).
Since that day, they started to call me PULGA which means FLEA. All because of the high quality of my jumps I guess.
In 2005 we had a workshop with a Canadian theatre company called Shakespeare Link Canada and we created a dance piece that the Canadian company told us they would like for us to present in Canada the following year.
I remember on that same day I got home and I told my family that I might go to Canada someday, and my older sister thought I was going crazy and speaking nonsense.
Eventually, 16 dancers from Montes Namuli Dance Company of Mozambique got their Canadian visas to come and perform in Toronto for the HIV/AIDS national conference.
When my visa arrived, I went home running and I called my family inside and I showed them my visa. My sister still couldn't believe me until she walked all the way to the airport on an afternoon in August of 2006 to see the airplane take off .
I remember sitting in an airplane for the first time and that first trip was the biggest trip of my life. I looked out from the window at my sister and I had tears in my eyes. Tears of happiness because I was going to Canada and tears of sadness for I was leaving home for the first time and I wouldn't see my family for a month for the first time in 18 years.
After we left, four airplanes and three days later, we arrived in Canada. None of the 16 of us spoke English and we were so amazed by the size of the airport and the number of people that were there.
In Canada, we stayed for a month and did a lot of performances. However, one day the artistic director of the theatre company that brought us here took me in a car ride with her partner and they had a dictionary trying to translate what they had to tell me .
So word by word, they asked me" WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY AND STUDY IN CANADA?'
I didn'tknow what to say but I looked back at my past, my family and a voice inside told me this would be the only chance to change my life and my family's life.
So while crying I said YESSSSSSSSS.
I told the news to the company members from Mozambique and I asked them to tell my family back home that I had to stay in Canada. When they arrived in Quelimane, my sister was at the airport waiting for me. As she counted all the dancers and realized that I was missing, she lost her mind; that's all I heard. Everything was okay when she read my letter and I spoke with my family over the phone; they were all very happy for me.
While in Canada, I lived with my sponsor (who I now call my Canadian mother) and her boyfriend for years. I attended one of the greatest dance schools in Canada - the Toronto Dance Theatre, where I did three years of professional dance training. After completing the program, I auditioned at the Toronto Dance Theatreas they were looking for 3 dancers out of 154 dancers who auditioned. I made it as 1 of the 3 dancers who were picked. So since 2009, I have been working with the Toronto Dance Theatre as a member of the company.
I remember my first big stage performance was in Montreal with the company.I stopped to pray before the show and I realized that my dream of playing in a big stadium in Europe came to be a performance on a big stage in Canada. That's when my dream came to life.
What's your inspiration and how do you get motivated? My inspiration are my family, my friends, and colleagues. Sometimes, I feel like I have made some bad choices regarding my career. However, I have people in my life who give meadvice. It motivates me whenever I go on stage and think about how far I have come and how much farther I can go.
I know every time I perform, I remember the look on my parents’ face when they first saw me perform in Mozambique and how happy it made me feel. These are the inspirations and memories that will always live each time I think about my career.
How did you get to where you are now and what more should we expect? I believe God has been a big part of where I am now. I sometimes forget how blessed I am for all I have accomplished so far in my life. As for the future, I am looking towards teaching children. I have always been good with kids and I have good chemistry with them. So someday, I want to be able to get more education so that I can teach kids full time. I want to incorporate all of my African dance skills into a more educative level. I feel like everyone has a dream and I would like to help any child explore their talent without feeling any pressure or even think of giving up.
I remember my parents not being supportive, but now I am their favourite dancer. So who knows, many kids out there have so much to offer, but I guess I need to tell my story and hear theirs so we can learn and teach each other.
What would you like to be remembered for? I want to be a father who my kids will speak well of the life I live. They will get my support in anything they choose to do in their careers. I know my family back home always prays that I don't work too hard and deal with stress, but somehow whatever I do is for my family. For me, family comes first and I want to be remembered as a FLEA who flew from Africa to Canada to change his family's life.
How do you balance work, family, friends and leisure? When it comes to work, I have a full time job that goes from 10am to 6pm everyday, except weekends. Having a social life is important to me, so in the evenings and weekends I try to spend time with my friends and my girlfriend.
Because my family is far away from where I am, I wake up early every Saturday morning to call them and see how they all doing.
During my days off, I enjoy going to a Portuguese bar nearby to watch soccer and socialize with different people. Whenever my friends are free we enjoy going to an African Lounge to have fun and dance to music from our culture.
What's your favorite food, book, music and movie? My favourite book is " The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill, and my favourite movie is "Hotel Rwanda" with Don Cheadle. When it comes to music, I listen to all kinds of music such as Salsa, R&B, Hip-Hop, Zouk, Coupe Decale, Azonto, Reggae, and more… But one of my favourite artist is Michael Buble.
What's your experience as a Black person in Canada? As a black man myself, coming from Africa to Canada without speaking any English and jumping right away into school full time, was one of the toughest times of my life. Every time, during lunch break we would sit in a circle to chat and laugh, but I would only just look around like I knew what they were talking about. Every time they laughed, I felt like they were talking about me and laughing at my different way of dressing. I never felt comfortable in situations like that.
I would often judge myself for being black and I looked at myself different from everyone else. Those days, I felt like being at home in Africa with my family. However, when I started to learn English, I felt more comfortable and things weren’t as weird as they used to be.
Somehow, I found people being so nice to me. When I first started taking public transportation in the city, I always felt weird not knowing what people were talking about and what they were laughing about. I felt like there wasn't freedom on my side.
Should & do Blacks support / patronize black music, events and businesses? I find that the black community in Canada knows how to work together, but most of the time, they are very competitive and everybody works just for themselves to be known before anybody else. Instead of moving together, we move separately. I remember going to watch a dance show not so long ago, and after the show there was a chance for Questions/Answers with the cast. Someone asked if there is a website where we can find all the black shows and events.
To my knowledge there isn't one or at least I have never heard about it. That question has lingered in my mind until now.
Are there as many opportunities for Blacks in Canada that can produce role models and institutions like TD Jakes, Beyonce, Tyler Perry, Obama, BET, etc? I think in Canada there isn't a lot of publicity for black artists to be recognized and really grow. I know there are a lot of talented people in this country. But some of them turn to doing construction because there aren't many opportunities, or even companies to hire them. In comparison to US figures like Tyler Perry, Beyonce, Obama, etc. I don't think in Canada there are as many black figures that are recognized internationally.
What’s your understanding of Black History in Canada? When it comes to black history in Canada, one of the things that I am happy about is how much they helped slaves who ran from the States.Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and as a black person myself, I know that here you can meet black people from all over the world.