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Belong, Believe, Achieve: Tanaka Bingwa has excelled in dance despite immigration troubles

east london and thames river

Dance: Urban Practice student has performed with the best in his field

When Dance: Urban Practice student Tanaka Bingwa attends his graduation ceremony at the University of East London (UEL) in July, he is likely to reflect back to two years ago when he had no idea whether such a day would ever arrive. That is because in 2016 Tanaka was facing deportation.

Born in Zimbabwe, Tanaka was 11 years old when he came to the UK in 2008, reuniting with parents who had migrated six years earlier.

On his arrival to the UK, Tanaka had to adjust to a different climate and education system, as well as learn English. At the time, he only knew Shona, a Bantu language native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Tanaka’s language limitations meant he was put in the bottom sets at school, but he slowly worked his way up.  Despite his shaky start, Tanaka still managed to attain 11 GCSEs at A – C grade. He then did three A levels at Woking College.

Tanaka said, “That’s when I really found my passion for what I wanted to do. The more creative, artistic subjects were where my heart lied.  That’s where my As and Bs were.”

But despite his determination and enthusiasm, Tanaka’s path through the English education system was not a smooth one due to his immigration status.  

Tanaka's parents had come to the UK as students, but as the political situation in Zimbabwe worsened, they decided to put their planned return on hold. They applied to the UK government for a change of immigration status, which meant they were no longer entitled to work, or able to afford to live in London.  So the family moved from Surrey to Manchester while their application was being processed due to the lower cost of living.

Tanaka was granted leave to remain for five years and returned to Surrey to complete his A levels. In 2015, he enrolled at UEL. The following year, however, his immigration status again became an issue when the five year period came to an end.

He said, “There was a point during my studies at UEL where I didn’t know if I would be able to continue or not. There was a huge level of uncertainty because I had no tuition fees from student finance, as I had no status. 

“I was living on campus but I couldn’t pay the rent because I wasn’t getting any money.  I could have been kicked out of university and, in the worst case scenario, deported from the country.”

His lecturers at UEL intervened on Tanaka’s behalf, writing letters to the Home Office.

Carla Trim-Vamben, Dance: Urban Practice Programme Leader, said, “The Dance team and I tried to make sure that Tanaka's emotional and mental wellbeing was considered throughout the year. I checked in with him and his friends to see if he was coping. Tanaka was very brave and I am not sure how he got through his studies but it is a testimony to his strong personality that he achieved such good grades at such a stressful period in his life.”

By the time Tanaka entered his third year at UEL, he and his family had been granted indefinite leave to remain by the Home Office and he was able to fully focus on his studies.

He has gone from strength to strength. He auditioned for Boy Blue Entertainment and was accepted into their Push academy, eventually graduating into Alpha Blue, the arm of the company for people who are under 23.

He has also performed at the BBC, the annual hip-hop dance festival Breaking Convention, and with choreographers Kenrick Sandy and Michael Asante in their acclaimed show ‘Blak, Whyte, Gray’ at the Lucian Theatre in Edinburgh.

More recently, Tanaka has performed with Grime artist Boy Better Know, been on tour with rapper Paigey Cakey and in a music video for Grime artist Ghetts. 

Tanaka said, “Most of these jobs weren’t in contemporary dance.  I’m not doing stuff that is natural to me.  This is stuff that I’ve learned on the course.  I’m doing hip-hop, and breaking and tricking and Crunk.”

And Tanaka’s plans for the future go even further than performing on stage. Along with his brother Wesley, who is currently doing a Master’s degree in choreography, he plans to start his own company called Boyz In Motion.

He said, “We want to change the perspective on dance for young boys.”