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South African Wins Ballet Scholarship, Dances Way Into Washington Ballet

  • Priscilla Huff

A young South African is dancing his way into a new role in the United States. Andile Ndlovu has won a scholarship to train with the prestigious Washington Ballet. His teachers say he is a fast-rising star whose culture inspires his art. Priscilla Huff spoke with Ndlovu and his teachers about the global language of ballet.

Learning to dance classical ballet is hard work.

Andile Ndlovu has traveled to the U.S. capital city to train with the Washington Ballet.

At 20 years-old, he's flown from South Africa, where he lived in the dusty township of Soweto.

It was his sister saw who pushed Ndlovu toward ballet. He'd tried ballroom and other forms of dance, but he preferred sports.

"She thought I had the rhythm and the musicality and I just have natural ability of dancing," Ndlovu said. "So, she used to give me money to go to dance classes, because that's the funny part because, I wouldn't go to dancing. I used to say: 'If you want me to go to dancing, then do some of my house chores, then, I'll go to dancing.'"

After winning a competition in South Africa, Ndlovu now has a scholarship with the Washington Ballet. His teachers see something special in Ndlovu.

Kee-Juan Han directs Washington Ballet School. "You see the intensity, the passion of his work, that's what sets him apart -- that's from another student, Han said. "He might not turn as much. He might not do as many tricks as the other boys. But just the passion of what he does, its just beautiful to watch."

Ndlovu's teachers describe him as a natural dancer. But that ease takes work.

As he practices, Ndlovu says he thinks of some of ballet's greatest - Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

He says they inspire him to think of how a man can dance ballet, "Dance is not easy," Ndlovu said. "I must concentrate and work hard and find my way of doing it -- and the technique and perfecting the technique and trying to make it better every time I come into the studio,"

Ndlovu and his fellow students demonstrate ballet's global appeal. He is the first student from Africa, but there are also dancers from Japan, China, Australia and Europe.

Septime Weber is the artistic director of the Washington Ballet. "We dance the same technique. It's the same language, but those languages are accented in different ways and Andile certainly brings this vibrancy of his African heritage to his classical ballet training," Weber said. "It's a warm and generous approach to classical ballet and that makes Andile unique."

Andile Ndlovu has already been invited back to join the studio company, the next step in becoming a full-fledged professional ballet star.