In a decade of dancing, I’ve experienced so many magical moments; it leaves me wondering what else I can contribute in my life and career. One of those moments was a surreal juncture in my fledgling dance profession. I stepped onto the stage of one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. I was asked to represent my nation as Holland played host to a meeting of greats. At a tender age of 20, I was center stage.
In 2002, the South African embassy in The Hague hosted the Faranani! concert at the Royal Carre Theatre in Amsterdam, at which the late Nelson Mandela was the guest of honor. Faranani!, meaning togetherness in the Venda language, was a concert promoting peace, reconciliation and unity between South Africa and the Netherlands, a relationship spanning 350 years. I danced for Madiba and the Dutch royal family with a company of acclaimed South African artists. Through the arts, these two nations commemorate the past.
For the royal family and the rest of the Dutch audience I might have been a symbol of the unusual, the unexpected act of an African woman in Europe dancing a Russian classic. In my heart, however, I was dancing for Mandela and South Africa. I felt like a cultural ambassador crossing borders, inviting audiences to journey with me until the last few breaths of The Dying Swan. As a ballerina, this honor represented my country’s struggle against a colonial past as well as my struggle to beat the odds as a black woman on pointe in a tutu.
It was a high point in my career and the wonderful memories stick with me to this day. A sense of duty stirs inside of me, sparked by the opportunity to dance for a global hero while on a mission to unite.
Today, a world away, I find myself fulfilling this duty at a dusty makeshift primary school in a township I called home. Alexandra, in Johannesburg, sets the stage for another kind of Faranani! concert in schools for thousands of culture-hungry children electrified by ballet performances in their playgrounds. This is part of my journey as I keep working to take my art and craft outside the garlanded stages of glamorous theaters.
As we mourned the passing of the father of South Africa, I felt the weight of history on my shoulders. That service to my country, which began at the age of 20, continues in celebration of Mandela’s legacy. Inspiring children in the townships is a humbling responsibility I take with pride. The future of these children will be determined by the choices they make and the freedom to believe they can achieve whatever they put their heart and mind into. Following your passion and working towards a dream becomes possible when the struggle of the past is broken. I hope that I can help the children realize that the destitution of a township can result in the beauty and grace of a ballerina.
Touring the world and dancing for dignitaries has its allure, but the shows in Johannesburg are the ones that are most fulfilling. Ballet helps to develop the image of South Africa, a country once segregated from the rest of the world, and entices an international flair to Johannesburg.
Making history is dancing on home soil as the only South African ballerina in galas with the New York City Ballet. Forging peace and unity is dancing on a stage with friends from Kiev and Moscow amid the recent unrest between Ukraine and Russia. Coming home is my affirmation of a passion for a nation that can use ballet to create Faranani!.