The rebel refining his life’s rhythm with ballroom dance

 
 
 

The lights dim and music flows, transforming Matthew van Hansen. When the schoolboy trades his scruffy takkies for a pair of Oxford shoes, his feet step lightly, leading the foxtrot as a gentleman would. Just 16 years old, Van Hansen is already a promising ballroom dancer. As he glides across the gleaming floor, you’d never guess that this confident young man has taken a thousand rocky steps to reach this effortless pace. “Before I danced, I was a different person,” Van Hansen says.

Abandoned as an infant, Van Hansen was taken in by the nurse who received him at the hospital. When his adoptive parents divorced, the young boy stayed with his father in a shack until the school his dad worked at gave them a place to stay. With the burden of a heavy life on his shoulders, Van Hansen often rebelled. “I was rude, I didn’t want to listen to no one,” he says. At school, he struggled to focus. But then Van Hansen discovered ballroom dancing, and with it learnt to curve against the difficulties of adolescence. “I started to become a gentleman,” he says. “To learn from your mistakes and to be honest to other people, and to yourself.”

Where Van Hansen used to stray from the light, today he basks in it, participating in dance competitions and acting as an ambassador for the sport. Any schoolmate who dares to call him a sissy soon learns that it takes real courage to find creative expression within yourself. “When I dance, I feel powerful,” Van Hansen says. “I feel like nothing can stop me.” Hearts swollen with pride, Van Hansen and his father now sway along to the rhythm of life they have found. Through the motions of dance, South Africans can discover the strength to realise their full potential.