Moving into Dance: There's something in the water

In sync: Dancers from the Moving into Dance Mophatong school programme performing during the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. (Photo: Mark Wessels)

In sync: Dancers from the Moving into Dance Mophatong school programme performing during the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. (Photo: Mark Wessels)

When Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) performed at Welkom’s Earnest Oppenheimer Hall in April this year, the 680-seater venue could have been filled three times over. “People were lining up around the block,” says Nadia Virasamy, the organisation’s chief executive and director of education. “Afterwards, a school teacher came to me and said she never realised that dance could be a real, sustainable career and an income generator.”

MIDM was founded in 1978 by Sylvia Glasser and has always been about using dance to fill the bigger gaps in social development. According to Virasamy, Glasser founded the organisation to reconcile the difference in education between the schools in Soweto where she taught and King David Victory Park, the school her own children attended. “She started teaching out of her garage; her mission, to give everyone the opportunity to dance.”

Today, MIDM has premises in Newtown, Johannesburg and runs a three-year training programme that teaches students not only dance, but also choreography, business skills and life skills that gives them the ability, in some cases, to return to their communities and encourage other young people to express themselves through dance.

Additionally through outreach programmes in schools and community centres, MIDM students engage with youth through interactive dance and creative movement workshops. These interactions not only uncover new talent and prospective dancers, but importantly, foster new arts audiences — of crucial necessity in South Africa.

“Many parents still think that it’s impossible to make a career out of dance,” says Virasamy. “I have nine full time dancers in my company, and have fostered many more dancers that have gone out into the communities and taught or worked in arts administration or communication.

“Through our annual tours we select talented young matriculants to join the MIDM company as students,” she explains. These students receive their education free, and are fully supported by MIDM. “When the students are selected, MIDM covers their costs for the period they are with the MIDM family; we transport them, house them, support and clothe and feed them, and pay them a stipend for their personal requirements.”

Students who don’t make it through to second and third year are still provided with a valuable skill set. Their fundamental training includes learning dance performance, choreography and teaching as well as arts administration, financial acumen and communication skills.

“We always joke that there’s something in the water at Moving Into Dance,” she laughs. “Our students are so passionate and so aware and seem to be good at everything — they are good dancers, good performers and great choreographers.”

Sunnyboy Motau joined the programme in 2008. “I was with a community group in Alexandra,” he explains. “I had the opportunity to watch the 2007 Dance Umbrella and I saw the Moving Into Dance performance and fell in love. It was something I’d never seen before.”

Today, Motau is a senior company member who teaches, performs and choreographs. He has toured extensively with Robyn Orlin’s Beauty Remained … in Europe, Canada, South America and Australia, and has worked on collaborative choreography with British/Israeli choreographer Rachel Erdos, and internationally-acclaimed dancer and choreographer Jessica Nupen.

“At MIDM I’ve learnt a lot about creating and how to hold yourself as a performer,” he says.  “I didn’t realise the importance of being disciplined. Most of the young people that come here grow a lot.”

Motau was a Mail & Guardian Young South African in 2015 and has won numerous awards including the Impact Award for Dance 2016.

“Our students are drawn from societies where underprivileged and unemployed youth and young adults abound,” adds Virasamy.  “This training enables them to become productive members of society. MIDM’s motto ‘Nyakaze o Fetohe — Making a Difference Through Dance’ — embodies its underlying philosophy and practice of transforming lives, one student, one dancer, one family, and one community at a time.”