Long before devotion drove Josphat “Jos” Munywoki to do what he does now, he had attempted to train as a teacher at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi but failed.
Were his wish to be fulfilled, he would go back to school and complete the teaching course.
“I would have ended up as a Mathematics and Physics teacher had I had the chance to complete my undergraduate degree, but I faced a lot of financial constraints,” Jos tells Lifestyle.
We are seated at a small dining table on the ninth floor of an apartment somewhere in Parklands, Nairobi. The room does not have sofas, television or any other meaningful accessories.
The dining table is jammed to one corner, creating acres of space that have now been transformed into a spacious studio with warm snake lights running around the four squares of the living room.
A small wooden shelf with Salsa, Kizomba and Bachata dance books stands beside the main door, just next to a small white board chat hanging on the wall with a programme.
The left wall displays a huge mounted mirror, running towards the veranda that opens into the serene ambiance of nature. You can feel the purity of air here, and trees don’t fail to whistle with every passing breeze.
On the right is more of an art wall, including framed photos and mural of the dreadlocked lanky Bachata instructor in sensual poses with his dance partner, Fine Sophiechen, who is also his girlfriend and mother of their baby.
“I am now a dance instructor. I teach dance but just not any other dance, I promote Bachata dancing and my goal is to create a Bachata community,” 28-year-old Jos says as I look around the room.
I find myself more curious of the concentric life that had him veer off the teaching profession he once thought he was destined for.
“Well, I am sort of still a teacher,” he says.
Jos is not afraid to open up about his tough upbringing in Nairobi, and his humble family background that made him struggle to raise university fees.
“I joined the university in 2015, but deferred so many times because of lack of tuition fees to a point I decided not to continue. Every time I came back, I would find new faces in the lecture hall and before long, I would defer again. It was mentally draining,” he says.
Having dropped out of university, Jos turned to blue collar jobs to make ends meet.
“I grew up in Gikomba and Majengo areas (of Nairobi) and being unable to continue with my university studies, I turned to hawking mayai pasua (boiled eggs) in the streets for a living,” he says.
At this point in his life, Jos had already been introduced into the world of Salsa dance. It was love at first sight.
“I first heard of Salsa when I was a teenager. I was at one of those teenage church events when some people performed the Salsa dance and I was smitten. I was mesmerised with the moves but what really captured my attention was how they communicated the complex moves without talking to each other,” he says.
Jos adds: “When I joined KU, I also found that they offered the Salsa and Bachata dance classes, so I joined, that’s how I got introduced to the basics ,” he recalls.
With the little money he made from hawking boiled eggs, Jos saved some amount to facilitate him attend salsa events.
“There was one that used to happen in the city centre at Spree club, you would always find me there every Thursday evening. There was also another that used to take place at Serena Hotel. I would attend, socialise and network,” he offers.
With time, Jos started showing up for the Serena Hotel Salsa event as a “taxi dancer.” He laughs as he explains what this meant.
“Being a taxi dancer meant that I would attend the event without paying the entrance fee, but I would join in the dance whenever there were more female dancers than the male partners in the room... you know sensual dances are usually in pairs with the opposite sex,” he explains.
Interestingly, there was always a shortage of male dancers and Jos was always sure of getting a free pass.
He observes that not so many men are into sensual dance, something he has come to discover not to be just a Kenyan thing but a worldwide phenomenon.
“I have been fortunate enough to travel courtesy of this dance to Spain, France and a number of Europe countries and there is something I have taken notice of — Salsa or Bachata dance is female dominated. For some reason, most men shy away even in the countries where the tango originated from,” he says.
From his networking and quick dance learning skills, Jos started focusing more on the rare Bachata dance, veering away from Salsa.
“I started watching more Bachata videos to improve my skills and every time I took to the floor, I got noticed, people started approaching me to tutor them. Remember at the time I was stilI hawking eggs and to be honest the business was doing pretty well,” he offers.
Bachata dance has its origin in the Dominican Republic while Salsa is a Latin twirl associated with the music genre of the same name. As for Kizomba, it is an African dance originating from Angola. Amongst the Angolans, Kizomba simply means to party’
In May 2018, one client became two, then three and Jos opened up a dance studio at the Central Park hotel in the city centre.
“From the class, I would post videos on social media and it wasn’t long before I started attracting more clients. I remember a Bachata instructor from Dar-es-Salaam saw my videos, reached out and flew me to Tanzania to coach a master class. Then not long after that, I got another invitation for the same in Dubai,” he says.
These trips opened up his eyes, he met professionals and experts in the game who introduced him to the business aspect of sensual dance.
It is this knowledge that he employed in growing his nascent business, which had just begun to pick before Covid-19 pandemic hit, forcing him to close shop.
With the curfews and movement cessations in effect, Jos started recording himself making Bachata moves and sharing the videos online.
The reactions kept building up with many more people showing a keen interest in learning the sensual moves. It was time to open up another studio.
“I asked myself, “What is the best way?” And that’s how the idea of turning my living room into a studio came to be. I live here, and the rest of the rooms are enough for me and my family (points to Sophie and their baby),” he says.
Jos offers both Bachata private and group classes. For private classes, which entail an individual with just him as the instructor, he charges Sh2,200 per session. But it’s cheaper to subscribe to a two-month package of eight private class sessions where a full course goes for Sh16,600.
Group classes are Sh1,200 per session, each running for an hour.
“The studio we are sitting at can comfortably host between four to seven students, a good number for a group class,” he says.
Besides individual tutoring, through his social media posts and networking, Jos has been able to land invitations in several countries to offer master class and workshop classes on the Latin dance.
“I also make money whenever there are Salsa or Bachata festivals in the country, especially in the universities,” Jos reveals.
But why Bachata?
“I realised the majority of the people are familiar with Salsa and Kizomba and not Bachata, and I thought to myself, why not focus on growing this dance which not everybody is doing, but which is also very interesting?
“What I love about Bachata is the fact that you can explore with the dance. It's a mix of all, from sensual to open dance moves. It has so many styles and also Bachata music is fun.
“Besides the passion, my goal is to create a Bachata community,” says the dancer.
At the Pumwani Social Hall, Jos offers free workshops on Bachata basic techniques from time to time.
“The idea is to have as many people learn the basic moves,” he says.
A fortnight ago, Jos curated his monthly Sip and Dance Sensual Bachata event at a restaurant in Nairobi’s Kilimani.
“It is always a free event where people come to have a good time, dance to Bachata, Afro beats, Salsa and kizomba as they sip their favourite wine,” he explains. “Whereas the entry fee and dance learning is free, it’s only fair to pay for your drink.”
Sir Winston Churchill, a British statesman, rose from a hawker to a banker and even wrote a book about it, from hawker to a banker.
Like Churchill, the 28-year-old Josphat Munywoki or simply Jos, is a hawker on the rise.