Hammanskraal to New York. Meet the dancer with all the right moves
Every move that Paul Modjadji makes has purpose. The dancer has had to consider every step to get to where he is today. In Modjadji’s hometown of Hammanskraal, there weren’t any dance studios to practise in, or teachers to encourage him. “We needed to go and learn on the streets,” he says. By joining informal dance groups, Modjadji performed for his community and honed his talent. But when he dared mention his ambitions beyond the local scene, he was laughed at. Dancing was not considered a career. “Growing up as a young person who loves performing was frustrating,” Modjadji says. To reach the world stage, he needed to take a leap of faith.
Daily practise, visualising his goals, and watching reruns of the musical Fame convinced Modjadji that he would succeed. At the age of 16, he saw an advert in a local paper to audition for dance classes at the University of Witwatersrand. Modjadji got in, and spent Saturdays sharpening his skills while balancing homework. His family were sceptical, but Modjadji persevered. After completing high school, he received a year-long scholarship to study dance in Denmark. When Modjadji returned to South Africa, he trained further in jazz, ballet, and contemporary dance.
Modjadji’s breakthrough moment came when he was crowned the first African to win the World Dance Masters Championship in 2011. “It really changed my trajectory and set my path,” he says. Since then, he’s gone on to rack up numerous accomplishments. In 2013, Modjadji received the Golden Shield National Heritage Award. He choreographed the 2015 MTV Africa Awards, as well as Africa’s first dance film, Hear Me Move. Over the next two years, Modjadji toured across 10 countries. While people didn’t believe that his passion could be his purpose, Modjadji has gone against the odds to prove them wrong.
The globally-renowned dancer is now on a mission to use his extraordinary talent for good. “A lot of communities can’t afford to have dance as an art form,” Modjadji says. That’s why he runs the Leaders who Dare to Dream Foundation, which promotes the arts in local townships. Through dance workshops and conferences, Modjadji is expanding opportunities for kids. He believes that everyone is born a winner, but it’s your actions that realise your potential. “When you share your skills, you inspire the next generation to recognise that anything is possible,” Modjadji says.