Soweto-born dancer Andile Ndlovu in running for prestigious 'Ballet Oscar'
'Things like this don't happen to people - especially not to Africans'
19 May 2019 - 00:00
As a boy growing up in Soweto in the early 1990s, Andile Ndlovu dreamt of being a soccer star. Instead, he was "tricked" into becoming a ballet dancer.
But the duplicity was worth it. Some 16 years later, Ndlovu has been nominated alongside some of the world's top dancers for the Benois de La Danse international ballet competition.
The event, to be held at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia, next week, is widely regarded as the Oscars of the ballet world.
Ndlovu, 31, a member of the Washington Ballet Company, is among six international male dancers nominated for best ballet dancer. He is the first South African dancer to be nominated for the prestigious award.
He was nominated by former Johannesburg Ballet CEO Dirk Badenhorst, a judge in the competition. Badenhorst is also the first South African to be appointed a judge.
In 2007 Ndlovu performed with the South African Ballet Theatre. He went on to dance with Cape Town City Ballet and tied for first place in the contemporary category of the 2008 South African International Ballet Competition. In the audience were members of the Washington Ballet Studio Company, who offered him a place at the Washington Ballet School. A year later he joined the company.
Badenhorst said Ndlovu had been an obvious nomination. "Andile is such a great role model and dancer. He's been dancing in Washington for nine years but he comes back to SA every year to teach and dance."
Ndlovu said he was shocked to be nominated. "Things like this don't happen to people - especially not to Africans or to people of African descent ... I'm nervous," he told the Sunday Times this week.
He said he and his two older sisters were raised by their mother, a union organiser for the National Union of Mineworkers; his father left home before he was born.
His maternal grandfather was a Latin ballroom dancer, a talent passed down to his mother, sisters and to him.
"I didn't want to [dance] in the first place. I wanted to play soccer, but my sister got me into Latin American and ballroom [dancing] at [the age of] 10. I was just good at it. My mom competed. She thought my sisters would do it [dance for a living] - but I'm the one living their dream, I love what I do.
"They are so proud of me, we speak all the time. My dad sometimes asks my sisters what I'm doing, but he's never tried to contact me. The same with my extended family, they said it would never be a career; they were wrong," he said.
At 15 Ndlovu began training in ballet under Martin Schöenberg, director of Ballet Theatre Afrikan. "My Latin [dance] teacher tricked me. She asked me to go with her into town to get some costumes. Instead she took me to a ballet audition. I'd never danced in ballet and it was the first time being in a studio with only white people. I was like 'Oh Lord, why!', and my teacher said: 'This is not the time to ask questions - you are going to audition'."
Ndlovu received a full scholarship to the ballet school. It included a bursary to Highlands North Boys High School, a place to live and a weekly stipend.
"Within a month I had moved from Ennerdale High to this wealthy all-boys high school. I was sitting in class in my tights. I never told anyone what I did. But when we graduated I told the boys - they didn't believe me," he said...