From the Townships of South Africa to the World’s Ballet Stages: The Gugulethu Project

Today, with more training opportunities available to talented young black ballet students, filling the pipeline for these programs remains a challenge.


Mbulelo Ndabeni, founder of London-based N’da Dance Company


How do you spot talent and recruit students when they may have no idea what ballet is? Unlike sport, which has long saturated mass media, ballet is still trying to shed its elitist reputation as the art form of kings who, pre-French Revolution, codified its vocabulary and used it to instill courtly manners.

Among the handful who are on a mission to diversify ballet’s stages, one remarkable teacher zeroes in on that codification as a boon: “Ballet is an international language – you can take ballet class anywhere and we are already united in our language,” contends Kristine Elliott, former American Ballet Theatre soloist who has traveled to South Africa for the past 12 years to teach in the townships around Cape Town and Johannesburg. Several of the young students she has mentored have gone on to make extraordinary lives for themselves, both in South Africa and outside the country – chalking up more wins for diversity on ballet stages, and lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.

– For more on Kristine Elliott and the Gugulethu Project, read my feature in the Huffington Post. –


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