They come to dance…and grow


CEO Philip Boyd takes one of his
students through one of the school’s
rigorous training regimes at the
Athlone studio.

DFA’s Cape Town Outreach Programme
takes dance to the classrooms of
townships such as Gugulethu and

CEO Philip Boyd (left, standing) fine tunes
one of his student’s techniques at the
school in Athlone.
(Images: Dance for All)

Philip Boyd
CEO, Dance for All
+27 21 697 5509

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Shamin Chibba

Albert Einstein famously referred to dancers as athletes of God, and the legendary American choreographer Martha Graham believed dance was the soul’s hidden language.

And it is through these notions that Philip Boyd established Dance for All, a non-profit organisation that gets children from previously underprivileged backgrounds into dancing.

Twenty-one years ago Boyd, who at the time was a principal dancer with what is now the Cape Town City Ballet, noticed that the South African ballet scene was devoid of black performers.

Inspired to change this situation, he gathered 34 children in a classroom in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape and began teaching them the basics of dance, establishing what was then called Ballet for All.

The name changed to Dance for All (DFA) after the organisation started incorporating other disciplines of dance such as African, jazz, contemporary dance and hip hop.

Today, DFA trains almost 1 000 children and young adults, between the ages of five and 21, from the region’s underprivileged communities.

The DFA difference

What distinguishes DFA from most dance schools is the outreach programmes it runs in various communities around Cape Town. Instructors provide free tuition in school classrooms and community halls in townships such as Gugulethu, Nyanga and Khayelitsha, as well as the further-flung areas of Barrydale, Montagu and Zolani.

However, their main studio is in Athlone in the Cape Flats, where the organisation’s most talented students train.

“It is where the serious training takes place,” said Boyd.

Together with his late wife, the renowned prima ballerina Phyllis Spira, Boyd was able to grow the project into a school that has become a springboard for many professional dancers.

Noluyanda Mqulwana, a cast member in The Lion King‘s Singapore chapter, has been invited to participate in the show for the Germany leg later this year. Another progeny of DFA is Xola Putye, a senior soloist with the Cape Town City Ballet.

Siphe November, a 13-year-old who has been sponsored to continue his training at the Canadian National Ballet School in Toronto, is also one of the project’s stars.

A success story of Boyd’s project is Theo Ndindwa, who danced professionally in the UK for six years before returning to South Africa to start his own professional dance company, iKapa Dance Theatre.

Keeping kids off the streets

When speaking of the benefits DFA provides, Boyd said the students learn to become focused and disciplined and being part of the school helps to keep them away from possible exposure to destructive behaviour.

“It gets the kids off the streets and with that, they receive good training,” said Boyd.

Within DFA are five programmes. The Cape Town Outreach Programme takes dance to township schools. Under the tutelage of former DFA trainee Hope Nongqongqo, more than 300 children are given the opportunity to learn ballet, African and contemporary dance in the classes that are run daily.

Other programmes include the Rural Outreach Programme; the InSPIRAtions Youth Company, whose members are hired for performances, corporate or private functions, and television commercials; Specialised Dance Programmes, which selects the most talented dancers from the Cape Town Outreach Programme; and the Bridging Programme, which helps fill the gap between dance student and professional.

Despite DFA’s incredible success, maintaining the project still remains a struggle financially. According to Boyd, the cost of running the school can go up to R4-million (US$480 900) a year and for an NPO, such funds are hard to obtain.

The efforts by Boyd and his team of instructors have culminated in what will be one of DFA’s biggest tours yet: the Mzansi Cymru Torchbearers concert in Cardiff, Wales.

Collaboration with Welsh performers

Eleven dancers from InSPIRAtions will collaborate with Welsh performers for two shows at the Wales Millennium Centre on July 20 and 21.

One of those taking part is Nathan Baartman of Eerstrivier in Cape Town. He initially started as a hip hop dancer when he was 17 but took up ballet when, just over a year ago, he felt the need to broaden his knowledge of dance.

“I went to a factory that makes ballet shoes and other equipment and a lady there advised me to take up ballet with DFA,” he said.

The shy 20-year-old uses dance as a medium to express himself.

“It’s a way of setting myself and my audience free. It’s an international language we can all understand.” he said.

Baartman feels that being a part of DFA has helped him discover just what he is capable of achieving.

“The teaching [at DFA] has been phenomenal. They never break you down. They are all about building you up.”

His trip to Wales will be his first major performance as a ballet dancer and he believes he is more than ready for it.

Members of Zip Zap Circus, the Fezeka Choir and Amampondo, all of which hail from Cape Town, will also take part in the concert.

Mzansi Cymru Torchbearers is an arts project spearheaded by Valley Kids, a community development charity based in the South Wales Valleys. it forms part of the Wales Cultural Olympiad.

The dancers will be accompanied by Boyd and teacher and choreographer Christopher Kindo.

Both South African and Welsh performers prepared themselves for the event when they rehearsed at the DFA studios in April, as well as at the Artscape Theatre and the Zip Zap Circus tent.

A duplicate of the Cardiff performance will be staged in Cape Town towards the end of November this year.