In this ballet studio, courage and confidence put critics in a spin


Thabang Mabaso wanted ballet lessons. All he got instead was criticism. “A teacher sat me down and said, ‘I don’t believe you have the physical attributes to be in this profession,’” Mabaso says. As a young boy from Orange Farm, a township in Gauteng, people doubted his ability to pursue the classical profession. “This criticism is what fueled me,” Mabaso says. He began to dance anyway, finding freedom in the expression of movement. Today, Mabaso glides across the studio floor with stars in his eyes, showing them how it’s done.

An accomplished ballet teacher, Mabaso is now sharing his love for en pointe movement with the next generation. Historically, dance has always played a significant role in South Africa. The protest dances during apartheid communicated messages of unity and strength. While the toyi-toyi echoed the fight for liberation, ballet infers freedom from within for Mabaso. The classical dance is his personal instructor, and he’s tenaciously taken its lessons to heart. “Ballet teaches confidence and courage,” Mabaso says. “It teaches you to hold your head up high, to get up when you’re down.”

Mabaso’s gracious attitude is a clear reflection of the resilience dance has created within. Now he’s extending an elegantly pointed hand in the direction of the future. “Today, I feel closer to my purpose,” Mabaso says. “I can share what I’ve learnt with the next generation.” By spinning into this endeavour, he’s opened up a new space to celebrate individuality and create understanding. Mabaso is proving that art can show you personal freedom, if you choose to free yourself from the opinions of others first.