12 October 2012 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Dancing into the future

Dancing won’t necessarily right social wrongs, or immediately change the material conditions of your existence. But it may change how you see yourself ... and that’s a good place to start.

Jikeleza ballerinas. Image courtesy Uthando South Africa

Phumlisa Ndindwa (19) is currently enrolled in an undergraduate programme with Cape Town City Ballet. Apart from introducing him to his passion when he was 9, the Jikeleza Dance Project helped find him a foster home and supported his education.

'I had my dreams and goals and I had every belief that I would achieve them with the help of Jikeleza. They believed in me and this made a difference to my plight,' he says. Dancing has helped to train his mind as well as his body, and today when he moves, it’s with pride, grace, joy and confidence.

The Jikeleza Dance Project trains girls and boys of all ages in various dance genres

A Xhosa word, 'jikeleza' means 'turn around' or 'pirouette', and that’s exactly what the project’s all about. Phumlisa is one of many young people the project has helped. Funded by various trusts, foundations and government departments, including the Global Sojourns Giving Circle, it gives young people from the informal settlements of Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg in Hout Bay the opportunity to learn African and contemporary dance, and Spanish and classical ballet. They also learn to play marimbas and drums.

'It’s not just about dance, though,' says Luthando Jeje (24), also enrolled in the Cape Town City Ballet undergraduate programme. 'It’s about respect for yourself and everyone that you come into contact with. I come from a very complex background with many issues, and I have to find the strength each day to carry on without all the negative influences in my community. Jikeleza is my "best friend". It has given me a better life to live and helped me survive.'

Along with classical ballet, students can learn contemporary, Spanish and African dance

While Jikeleza does brilliant work in identifying, nurturing and developing talent in a safe and healthy environment, it’s the dancing itself that facilitates something special – the development of a strong, healthy sense of self, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and cooperation.

By receiving high-quality, dedicated dance and music training, young people like Phumlisa and Luthando get access to a space that is creative, fulfilling and safe. In many ways this is as important as the technical training they receive, as there are very few developmentally based recreational opportunities for them in the communities they come from.

The Jikeleza Dance Project gives regular performances to help fund its running costs

'I joined Jikeleza in 2005 to keep myself busy after school because the township I lived in had no sport activities,' says Sthembile Malinga. Along with dance, the project taught her 'respect, discipline, honesty and trust'. As a result of her training, she was given the opportunity to work with the Jazzart Dance Theatre, and in 2010 got the chance to perform with the company cast at the FIFA World Cup. She is currently enrolled for business studies at Tsibo College.

The dancing itself facilitates something special – the development of a strong, healthy sense of self, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and cooperation.

As well as preparing young dancers and musicians for employment in professional companies or as educators, Jikeleza also provides all kinds of additional support to its students: there is a reintegration initiative with homeless children from the streets, and monitoring and support of rehabilitated street children. The project also helps educate young people about issues such as HIV/Aids, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and abuse, and environmental concerns, among others.

Some students who take part in the Jikeleza Dance Project go on to have professional careers in dance

In this way, Jikeleza literally has the ability to change the lives of its dancers. It opens doors professionally, but crucially, it also changes how those enrolled see themselves and their potential.

It allows them find out who they are and to express this, with support and guidance along the way. They begin to see and experience themselves differently.

This is the transformative power of dance on the dancers, who find hope, joy and a source of self-esteem.

Dance also has an effect on those who watch it and see the dancers in the moment, creating beauty and meaning out of movements that transcend words, circumstances and social problems, even if it’s just for the duration of the performance.

Along with technical aspects of dance, the Jikeleza Dance Project helps to equip students with life skills.

Founded in 2002, Jikeleza currently teaches over 200 children and youth at 3 venues, employing 16 people, including 4 trainee teachers appointed from within the communities it serves.

It gives regular income-producing performances, allowing it to raise a considerable percentage of its own funding and providing a source of immense pride for the beneficiary communities.

Dancers in class. All images courtesy Jikeleza Dance Project

Category: Arts & Entertainment

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