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By Don Makatile | Jul 23, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The walls of the Dance Space in Newtown, Johannesburg, tell a graceful story of dance.

It is the story of Gregory Maqoma, dancer extraordinaire, told over and over again in reams and reams of newspaper articles.

Maqoma has travelled the world - a globetrotting phenomenon, those whose job it is to market him say. He's won every dance award under the sun, both here and abroad.

When he founded the Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) in 1999 - the isiXhosa word being his given name, Maqoma was merely spreading the word of how children from the dusty townships, one himself, could eke out a comfortable living from the elegant movements of dance.

The word has caught on.

We catch up with him at the Dance Space, the "training grounds" of VDT, a permanent home they have just moved into as they celebrate their 10th year.

Young people line up behind him as they follow every intricate move he shows. It is a beautiful sight.

His solo act Beautiful Me is on tomorrow and Saturday only, at the Dance Factory.

Beautiful Me has already been to the Reunion Island and Namibia, and three days after the two-night run in Newtown, will head out to Luanda, Angola, from July 28 to August 1.

We are told: "Beautiful Me is Maqoma's ongoing investigation of his own identity in relationship (sic) to history, humanity and nature. He begins with movement, text and music contributed by three master choreographers who have had a great influence on him - Akram Khan's contemporary Kathak, Faustin Linyekula's visual dance-theatre and Vincent Mantsoe's Afro-fusion."

But that is another story, the story on the walls; already told.

The untold one is on the floor, of the youngsters lining up to take orders from Maqoma, hanging onto his every word.

He barks the orders like a judo master, only he's not calling them into a fistic duel but one of harmony in movement.

Sizakele Mdi from Bloemfontein has a bit of flesh on her 25-year-old frame. She debunks the myth, says Maqoma, that dancers have to be tall and slim.

Mdi says she's overcome her weight issues. "She's freed her spirit," adds Maqoma.

She prances around the floor with the agility of a cat. "Weight shouldn't be a factor holding one back," she says, her frolic a clear sign she was in her element.

From Sasolburg, also in the Free State, comes the dreadlocked Motse Moeketsi, who gave up a not-so-bad career his accounting degree promised him. "It gives me a sense of serenity," he says about dance.

His peers crack up when he says the figures in accounting couldn't give him the peace of mind dance offers him.

Mandla Mathonsi has been dancing for three years. He's always been seen as a bit "weird" in his hometown of Tembisa in Ekurhuleni. Friends and family often asked when I was going to get a proper job. But at 25, he says he's made his choice in life: "It's dance."

While his buddies in the township swear by Kaka and Ronaldo, his heroes bear names like Akram Khan.

Following one's heart is best illustrated in the life of Mcebisi Bhayi, a former boxer from Mdantsane. "I was one of three boxers in my family," he says, "my other brother even boxed professionally."

One can grow old in dance and still play a role, says Bhayi. He plans to become a choreographer once his bones give in.

Asked about the choreographic talents of actor-socialite Somizi Mhlongo, who gets most of the jobs in choreography, Bhayi is unmoved: "I don't know. He's just Somizi."

Bhayi, isiXhosa for Port Elizabeth, is from East London. He's been to many other towns with dance - in Senegal, where he stayed for three months, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, where he taught African dance for 16 months.

"I can be myself here," says Tumi Shai, 21, of Alexandra, when asked what she was doing at VDT.

In five year's time? we ask. "I'll still be dancing."

Tall and trim, Katlego Mokoka's family name is Sesotho for stamina. The genes in his frame allow him the grace of Rudolf Nureyez, especially against the background of music. He says he dances to "any kind of music, depending on my mood".

Give him the accompaniment of sound and, like the other Maqoma protégés, dance he will - as dance he does!


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