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A blend of Inspiration, Dedication and Commitment

Zama Dance School is an award winning dance school in the heart of Gugulethu. Approaching it's 29th year, this registered NGO caters for up to 100 students between the ages of 6 and 17 years. Success stories are many, with former Zama Dance School students dancing professionally in South Africa and abroad.

Students are taught ballet three times a week, work with both locally and internationally acclaimed choreographers and are fed nutritious meals after class and rehearsals. Class tuition, dance clothes/shoes and meals are all sponsored by generous organisations and individuals such as the Raymond Ackerman Foundation, the Western Cape Government, Uthando SA, the National Arts Council, Pick n Pay, EXACT, the Flora Foundation and the Lottery.

Zama has long standing relationships with the Cape Town City Ballet (CTCB) and Debbie Turner's Cape Dance Company (CDC) and it 's association school the Cape Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA), where Zama students get to take part annually in workshops. Students visit these rehearsal spaces a number of times per year to watch creative processes and rehearsals for upcoming performances. This continues to inspire Zama's young dancers whilst developing role models.

Zama Dance School is directed by former CAPAB Ballet and Cape Town City Ballet dancer Andrew Warth. Andrew trained at the Legat School of Russian Ballet in Tunbridge Wells, England, before his first engagement as a professional dancer in Germany with the Essener Ballet and later with the German Opera on the Rhein, in Düsseldorf. In 1990 he moved to Cape Town where he danced for CAPAB Ballet, now known as Cape Town City Ballet.

In January 2009 Andrew joined Arlene Westergaard at Zama Dance School in Gugulethu, and with Arlene’s guidance became Zama’s full-time ballet teacher. On Arlene’s retirement at the end of 2011, Andrew was promoted to director. “I feel I have very big shoes to fill and am grateful for the support and guidance offered by Zama’s patron, Raymond Ackerman and the Ackerman Family Foundation,” he says.

The school now employs former CAPAB/Cape Town City Ballet principal dancer Leanne Voysey to teach classical ballet as well as stretch and body conditioning classes. Former Zama Dance School student Mamela Nyamza teaches contemporary dance.

Leanne studied at the Johannesburg Art School before graduating with a Performer’s Certificate in Dance from UCT School of Dance, Cape Town. After a highly successful career as principal dancer with Cape Town City Ballet, Leanne went on to qualify as a hatha yoga instructor and an Equilibrium Pilates Mat 1 instructor. She has also worked as a Lifeline counsellor and has completed a UNISA HIV/AIDS Care and Counselling course.

Mamela is an award-winning dancer from Gugulethu, who started her dance training at Zama Dance School when she was eight years old. Her career highlights include dancing the lead role in Richard Loring’s African Footprint and performing in The Lion King in the Netherlands. She received an award to attend the Vienna International Dance Festival, won the FNB Vita Award for The Dying Swan at the Dance Indaba and was selected as the South African representative for the Superstars of Dance television show in the US. Mamela now teaches at and creates commissioned work for Zama Dance School.

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The Zama Dance School Trust grew out of one woman's drive to teach ballet to underprivileged children matched equally by patron Raymond Ackerman's desire to nurture their careers in the arts.

"Zama students come primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds. In their principal, Arlene Westergaard, I found a woman who through sheer guts and determination was teaching these kids to express their joy, their anger and their emotions through the mediums of dance and music," says Ackerman.

In 1984 Arlene put heart and soul into living her dream when she left the jazz dance centre she ran in Cape Town to work with African children. A dancer from age three, Arlene had always wanted to work with underprivileged children and began by asking the Department of Race Relations to find her some students.

Sacred space
She was given six children, one of whom had a father who was a minister in a nearby township, Gugulethu. He became interested in what they were doing and, surprised to learn that township children were keen on classical dance, offered them the use of the church. Once the pews were pushed back, it made space for once-a-week classes for 56 students from Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Langa and Gugulethu, ranging in age from five to 19.
Within a year, classes were held five days a week and Westergaard was teaching full time. To support herself, she sold her house, invested the money and lived off the interest until 1990 when she persuaded Dr Dulcie Howes and Raymond Ackerman to be the school's patrons and Pick n Pay to become its major benefactor.

Good intentions
Almost immediately, Ackerman established a trust to ensure a long-term future for the school and its students. Although there is a nominal tuition fee, those who cannot afford to pay are granted bursaries. “Zama's aim is to change children's lives for the better... we are committed to continue doing so as long as we have their parents' blessings and the limited financial backing to feed and enrich our school with the essential basic needs," said Arlene. “We want to develop choreographers, dancers and teachers with a sense of team work, self-discipline, pride and achievement.”
Foreign embassies and large corporate companies have sponsored individual projects. Extra funding is needed for ballet shoes, clothes, tights, tracksuits and transport to competitions or outside events. Students participate in dance festivals and eisteddfods wherever possible to get exposure and to meet other dancers. After completing matric, they have the opportunity to further their training by studying for dance diplomas and degrees at other institutions.

Pioneering performance
Arlene said that Zama Dance School was the first black classical ballet group to perform at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in 1985. They were a hit but people questioned why black dancers were doing classical ballet instead of their own kind of dancing. Arlene wanted to show people that African children can do classical ballet. “I'm sick and tired of hearing people say, 'but they haven't got the feet for it... they don't have the physique... it's not in their culture... how do they listen to the music?' What a load of codswallop. Zama encourages growth and development. We don't think in a box."

Nandipha Gogela
Nandipha Gogela

At that time, countrywide civil unrest disrupted performance opportunities and class schedules, but Arlene still tried to teach every day and had to get a special permit to travel into Gugulethu. "Often we would be in class when a child would run in and suggest I leave quickly as things were hotting up around the church area," says Arlene. She recalls the day that Ellen Mpetha, granddaughter of African National Congress activist Oscar Mpetha, was late for class. "When she arrived, she told me she had been washing off the blood of her friend who had been shot."

Zama graduates excel
All the children have stories to tell... Nontle Monde blossomed from runaway child to confident, talented dancer. Mamela Nyamza was sent to class to keep her off the streets. There wasn't money for ballet clothes, so she danced barefoot in her bathing costume. She now performs and choreographs internationally and is on Zama’s teaching staff.

Zama graduate Andile Sotiya received a scholarship from the Rudolph Nureyev Foundation for what was then the Ballet Rambert dance school. This came after he and Mamela had completed three-year national dance diplomas on scholarship at the Pretoria Technikon. "Historically, ballet in our country has been a mostly white cultural activity and it's especially important to try and change township parents' minds about this," says Sotiya. He lives in the UK, where he takes on choreography work and is a resident lecturer at a college.
Mantu Jakavula, Patrick Mngeni and Songezo Mchilizeli are also Zama graduates who have become professional dancers.

Monica Maxengana
Monica Maxengana

New home
In May 1999, Zama Dance School's new school premises were opened in Gugulethu, custom-made with the help of Pick n Pay. "I expect Zama to continue to grow... to continue with its excellent standards of dance and hopefully to produce many more students following in the footsteps of star pupils like Andile and Mamela," says Raymond Ackerman.
The current student complement is about 100.


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