Gugulethu dancer receives prestigious scholarship at USA dance school

Annual Kasi Dance Bootcamp hosted by Igugu-lethu Arts and Leadership Project in June. From left, Nkosinathi Mngomezulu, Mahle Dlambulo, Lelethu Matsolo and Linathi Louw. Picture by Lonwabo Marele.
Mahle Bulumko Dlambulo in Gugulethu.
Mahle Dlambulo receives a sponsorship from the Ballet World in Rondebosch.
Mahle Bulumko Dlambulo all smiles in Rondebosch.

Vibrance, curiosity, humbleness and consistency are a part of the recipe that earned Mahle Bulumko Dlambulo, from Gugulethu, a scholarship from an international dance school.

The 17-year-old contemporary dancer from Chris Hani Arts and Culture High School in Khayelitsha received a scholarship to attend a programme of the USA-based Alonzo King Lines Ballet dance school.

Mahle was picked out of more than 50 dancers who took part in a virtual audition held earlier this year.

He had watched dancers from across the world strut in their tights on such prestigious stages, but never imagined that someday he would be a part of such a journey.

That was until dance NPO Igugu-lethu Arts and Leadership Project introduced primary schools in the area to contemporary dance in 2016.

Mahle says he knew he could mimic a couple of traditional dance moves from school events, but taking it further was a new challenge that he happily accepted.

On weekdays and some weekends, he is often spotted at the Gugulethu sports complex, practising or teaching fellow dancers.

His dancing has exposed him to different exchange programmes at UCT and at the Cape Town City Ballet.

Mahle says minutes before auditioning for the Alonzo King Lines Ballet, he was preparing for their usual practice session, until Olwethu Katase, the founder of Igugu-lethu Arts and Leadership Project read out loud an email about the auditions.

Nerves kicked in, but an opportunity like this was something he had spent his entire dance career preparing for.

“The initial aim of Igugu-lethu was to just teach kids to make something out of themselves and also to instil the knowledge of humbleness. But it actually did more than that. It actually improved our English and our ballet and also we are taught not to be one horse ponies, I am able to do ballet, African contemporary, isPantsula, Umjaivo and also to be woke,” he says.

“I really did not expect that I would get (the scholarship). Hopefully one day I will be able to represent South Africa internationally,” he says.

Mahle says he is grateful to Katase for her consistency in helping him and many other youngsters in the project, as well as Cebolenkosi Zuma, a choreographer he enjoys watching.

“In dance I have so many idols, but I have an idol in Olwethu Katase. I also have this vibe that Cebolenkosi Zuma has that I do not want to lose. He did classes with us about ancestry and that makes me want to research more about my culture.

“He specialises in Africa so you can see him playing uHadi (hide and seek) and even the instruments played in his songs are ancient instruments,” he says.

Mahle, who regularly posts dance videos on his social media, says youngsters from his area are excited to see him come and go to dance classes at the sports complex.

“Whether I am sad or happy, with consistency and with persistence you can go far. I am able to go to my dance classes and come back and be a neutral person. So once you find what you love don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, do it, go for it, you can do it,” he says.

Katase says Mahle is “a ball of light” who models the behaviour of a born leader.

“I met Mahle at this primary school group in 2016 when he was doing Grade 6. He was a very dedicated learner. You could see in what he is doing he is invested. He has grown so much since 2016 up until 2021. Mahle is a born leader I know if I cannot make it in time for a class he is a reliable person he will be there to teach the kids.

“He has modelled a behaviour of consistency to the other dancers in the project. He is very humble, always asking questions, a chatterbox, very vibrant with a bright future just like all the kids I teach, they are all stars but each star shines differently. He is one of those kids who will make something out of themselves,” she says.

Katase says had it not been for the Covid-19 regulations, Mahle would have been on a flight to San Francisco.

“Alonzo King Line Ballet is a huge name. And him getting that award means he has knocked on the door of becoming an international dancer because wherever he goes, he goes with that title. He is a recipient. He is an alumni. He must not take that lightly. He might not have been able to go there physically but for them handpicking him out of 50 other kids partaking in the auditions meant they saw something in him and they wanted him to be among the greats,” she says.

This week, Ballet World in Rondebosch sponsored Mahle with dance gear to participate at the Alonzo King Lines Ballet Summer Intensive Program, which started on Monday, July 26.

“We might not have a lot of funding because we work through donations… But he is able to say I may be from Gugulethu but I am an international dancer with a scholarship from one of the biggest dance schools in the world. To us it is a pat on the back saying what we have done a good job and what we have sacrificed is worth it. To see these kids leave the townships makes us proud, we want to see pilots, doctors, poets and kids spreading their wings and flying high,” says Katase.