boys light up the gloom
After the recent spate of racist incidents that rocked the country one can't help but wonder whether the concept of a rainbow nation is not simply the brainchild of some delusional politicians.
The fact that an unrepentant, convicted murderer can still play rugby at provincial level with barely a whisper being raised, along with other incidents, clearly illustrate that when it comes to race relations South Africans certainly have a long road to walk.
But some good sometimes emerges from the doom, gloom and hatred. For me it was a chance encounter with two young boys who come from totally different segments of society - one from the farming platteland of Eastern Cape and the other from Atteridgeville in Tshwane.
Brought together by their love of music and dance, Dirkie Mostert and Eugene Baloyi, both aged 17, have forged a friendship that offers a glimmer of hope that maybe things will improve for future generations.
Prejudice is something the youngsters have become used to.
Attending Pretoria Boys' High School, they have turned their backs, much to the dismay of family, fellow pupils and teachers, on the traditional sports played at the school - rugby and cricket.
Instead, they have embraced the hip-hop culture that has seen them travel the world showcasing their dance skills.
"Obviously it hasn't been easy following the route that we have," Dirkie says. "Because it is Pretoria Boys' High everyone expects you to play rugby, but that is not our thing.
"When you mention dance the first thing people think of is ballet and that it's a girl thing. Even some of our teachers didn't like the fact that we chose dance as our sport."
The boys first met in Grade 5 at the Irene Primary School in Tshwane and have become inseparable.
"We train every day and at weekends spend a good five hours learning, practising and perfecting new moves," Eugene says.
"We don't like copying other artists, so we create our own style and even choreograph for other artists."
There is no doubt hip-hop carries a certain stigma. Made popular in the US in the early 80s, this music genre was originally - and sometimes still today - associated with a subculture of gangs, drugs and fighting.
One just has to listen to some of the lyrics to realise there is a slightly dark side to hip-hop.
For Dirkie and Eugene this couldn't be further from the truth.
"Sure, hip-hop has that stigma attached to it, but for us it is a way of showcasing our talents," Dirkie says.
"When we perform in a competition the audience expects the gangster image of baggy clothes, caps and takkies and we don't mind playing along, but when the competition is over we are just regular guys who love what we do."
Currently in Grade 11, they are starting to explore other avenues to pursue after completing matric but suggestions of an academic career are laughed off.
"Nothing much interests us apart from music and dance - this is our life," Eugene says.
"Ideally we would like to concentrate on dance, but perhaps we might look at something along the lines of sound engineering.
"Unfortunately at this stage in our dancing careers there is very little money to be made.
"Even when we won the world title last year in Berlin, Germany, there was no financial reward.
"What we have earned, though, is the respect of fellow dancers and people in the dance industry. Hopefully this will open up doors for us in the future."
Watching the boys in action at the Battle of the Giants, a dance competition recently held at Sun City, it became clear they are well known and respected.
This is a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by their dance instructor, Eunice Marais.
"I've known Eugene and Dirkie since they were 10 years old and they are level-headed boys," Marais says.
"Today I don't actually teach them anything since they do their own choreography. I'm more of a mentor or second mother.
"They live for their dancing, but unfortunately finding sponsors for them is a constant battle."
Even at such a young age the boys realise the importance of giving back to society, so they regularly hold workshops for budding dancers and put on displays for those less fortunate.
"We run a number of outreach programmes and are involved with the Reach for a Dream Foundation," Marais says.
"We often visit hospitals where terminally ill children are treated to a dance exhibition. Eugene and Dirkie always willingly give to this kind of project."
In the dance game for 23 years, Marais' dance school in Centurion, Tshwane, caters for more than 200 students and puts strong emphasis on spreading the word of dance to those less fortunate.
Marais says: "We have 83 development students in our school. These are often the children of domestic workers and farmworkers in the area.
"There is a huge store of natural talent in the black community, but funding is obviously a problem.
"We cannot expect these people to pay for their classes and when we have to go to competitions outside of our province it is vital that they come with us otherwise you have double standards.
"You are telling people 'achieve, but don't achieve too much'."
Marais sees a bright future for Eugene and Dirkie, but one that will not be easy.
"The boys need international exposure to take them to the next level," she says. "European dance instructors used to think that we are 15 years behind the times in South Africa.
"But just look at what these two boys have achieved."
lTo view a video of Battle of the Giants log on to www.sowetan.co.za