The Cape Town City Ballet won’t let the COVID-19 pandemic throw them off balance in their quest to “reach for the stars.” The company has launched a project aimed at giving online tutoring to children from the Zolani Township in Ashton in the Boland.

This is in honour of former statesman Nelson Mandela and in response to a call made by South African-born international dancer and choreographer, Mthuthuzeli November.

There is no part of life that has been left untouched by COVID-19; even the elegance of ballet is now done with sanitisers, social distancing and face masks.

Dancers at Cape Town City Ballet have adopted the new normal.

CEO Debbie Turner says COVID-19 has forced them to find additional ways of communicating and engaging with children.

“Because of COVID-19, as treacherous as it is and as damaging as it is, it’s forced us into another space of additional ways to communicate and engage with the children and young adults that we want to engage with. To encourage them into this as a potential career for them or at least give them the skills that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Last week, November highlighted the plight of young dancers from the township of Zolani.

November, now based in London, hails from the area. The dancer and choreographer is offering free classes online.

“I’ve received a couple of messages from my family in Zolani, which is a township that I’m from in South Africa.  They’re telling me that so many young people have been reaching out to them asking for my help. They have been left behind in the pandemic. They haven’t been able to keep up with their dance training. They haven’t been able to keep up with some of their school work and the main reason for this is the lack of internet and the lack of space to even dance.”

In a bid to do their part for Nelson Mandela day, Cape Town City Ballet answered November’s call. They launched a project by doing 67 pirouettes, a difficult classical ballet technique, on Mandela day.

The company will give 67GB of data for internet access and 67 hours of training.

Hoping to get the project started safely under COVID-19 regulations within the next few weeks, children and adults will be encouraged to join the online tuition.

“We will enable the tutors by giving them the gigs to be able to zoom to the children of Zolani and pay for the data so that the children have a direct contact even if it has to be through a television or phone screen. But also in addition to that, the skill that exists in Cape Town City ballet right from our principal dancers to our young sort of apprentices that are 20, 21 years of age and are newly stepping into this arena is to engage with the children and young people of Zolani to educate them and to develop skills; not only in dance, but in things like yoga, mindfulness practice. Just general life skills that dance gives you because the basic thing that dance comes back to is discipline,” says Turner.

Turner says you can’t be what you can’t see, making role models critical.

The project could well continue after COVID-19 as part of the already existing outreach programmes of the dance company. And maybe someday, another star will come from Zolani, aided by a need born out of a pandemic, a plea for help and hope for the future.

In the video below, Cape Town City Ballet says it has launched a project giving online tutoring to children: