South African ballet dancer confounds racial stereotypes

Story highlights

  • Andile Ndlovu is a ballet dancer from the township of Soweto, South Africa
  • He says he has had to overcome racial stereotypes to become a ballet dancer
  • Ndlovu hopes he can become a role model for young dancers in Africa

Andile Ndlovu is one of South Africa's most prominent young ballet dancers, an international performer and award winner both at home and overseas.

But for Ndlovu to be accepted into the rarefied world of classical dance -- which in South Africa is traditionally seen as an elitist and a predominantly white preserve -- the boy from the rough Soweto townships says he had to overcome outdated stereotypes.

"I used to be picked upon for the way I walk and the way I act or carry myself," he says of his time at school, where he became disparagingly known as "the dude who did ballet."

He even recalls his closest friends teasing him about the tights, shoes, underwear and sparkly clothes that he would have to wear during practice and on stage.

But by remaining focused, diligent and passionate about dance, the young Ndlovu never let the jibes get him down and he continued to practice obsessively.

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In late 2008, this perseverance was rewarded as he was offered a place at The Washington Ballet, one of the most prestigious dance companies in the United States. That year he shot to fame in a production of Don Quixote by the South Africa Ballet Theater.

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Now 23, Ndlovu has gone on to win awards at the Boston and Cape Town International Ballet competitions, as well as securing prominent roles in numerous ballet productions across the world.

This success, he hopes, will eventually enable him to change conventionally held views not only of black dancers but male ballet dancers in general.

"What I wanted was to change people's minds in South Africa about black ballet dancers. I wanted to change that view, because everybody used to put it in a category for the elite people or, you know, it's only for a certain racial group," he says.

"I [want to] set the bar for anybody else that's coming, that's growing up, that's coming behind, and they will learn from my actions and what I do and hopefully I become a role model for them, especially South Africans," he adds.