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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
The current student complement is about 100.