Dudu Phele on breaking the mold and skating her way to the top

Figure skater, Dudu Phele. Image: Lesedi Mothoagae
Figure skater, Dudu Phele. Image: Lesedi Mothoagae

At 34, Dudu Phele is the current Gauteng champion in adult figure skating and the only woman of her age to qualify for the nationals.

She chats to us about disrupting the status quo of the sport and her ambitions to represent South Africa internationally

How did you get into figure skating?

I got into figure skating purely by chance. I was walking at Northgate Mall and I saw people skating on the ice rink. It looked interesting and I decided then and there to go in and try it out. I kept coming back. I also researched it and did it more often. This one time, a coach from the Central Gauteng Figure Skating Association saw me. She told me I was good. When I told her that I did this as a hobby, she told me to do it professionally. I did and never looked back. That was five years ago. I believe I was born to do it

What goes into becoming a Gauteng champion?

I have been training at the Kempton Park ice rink as part of the Central Gauteng Figure Skating Association’s school. When you join the school you become eligible to enter ice-skating competitions. To climb the figure skating ladder, you have to enter into competitions to progress further, hold a title, and qualify for the nationals.

What are the skills and requirements of being a good figure skater?

You have to be super flexible. Most professionals complement skating with ballet, yoga and/or Pilates. You have to have strength. You need stamina, so your lungs need to be functioning really well. You also need discipline and patience because you can try a single move a thousand times before you get it right.

Is it a costly sport?

It is extremely expensive. Unlike Europe, South Africa only has ice rinks in malls for both professionals and the public. We pay R365 per day to train securely between 3am and 6am, which is our only designated training time as professionals. Skates are costly. You have to have a chiropractor because there are many injuries involved. You have to eat well and have a gym membership for off-ice training.

You started skating as an adult. What has that taught you?

It’s taught me never to allow anyone to tell me that I can’t do anything. When I started figure skating I was a new mom — tired, overweight, stressed out. People used to look at me funny, making me feel bad and like I was doing something wrong. But I’m a voluptuous woman doing it and I love it!

Where do you see yourself going with the sport?

I want to win a gold medal for South Africa and the continent. I would also like to create a local ice show similar to the likes of international ones like Peter Pan on Ice, but with a South African feel.

This article first appeared in the March 2020 print edition of S Mag. The Sowetan’s quarterly lifestyle magazine.