Dance a catalyst for change, says Gugs artist

Igugu-lethu Arts and Leadership Project founder, Olwethu Katase, a teacher at Chris Hani Arts and Culture School in Site B, in Khayelitsha, third from right, with freelance artist Yaseen Manuel, Dawn Karlovsky, founder of US-based Karlosvky and Company Dance and the children who took part in the workshop.

Dance artist, Olwethu Katase, 26, from Gugulethu, says youngsters from townships can discover new worlds through education, leadership and dance. 

This comes as Katase’s non-profit organisation, Igugu-lethu Arts and Leadership Project, hosted visitors from the United States of America (USA), the Karlovsky and Company Dance, during a one- day dance exchange workshop at the Gugulethu indoor sports centre, on Saturday.

The Karlovsky and Company Dance performed at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Observatory on Friday. They were introduced to Katase by freelance artist, Yaseen Manuel and dance artist, Rae Classen.

A UCT School of Dance graduate, Katase says she started the project four years ago as a way of using art as a catalyst to minimise the many social ills that affect the youth in the township, including drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and high school dropouts.

“The project’s name comes from the word Gugulethu, which means our pride

“We’re bridging the gap and giving the kids a skill that will make them realise their potential because not all of them will become academics or doctors.

“So I’m actually trying to give them an option to think, ‘If I’m good at dancing I can become a dance artist, I can travel the world and become a dance teacher’. So I’m trying to give hope to the kids of Gugulethu and the surroundings,” she says.

Katase is a Grade 7 teacher at Rosmead Central Primary School in Claremont and Turfhall Primary School in Athlone.

She also teaches Grade 10, 11 and 12 at the Chris Hani Arts and Culture School in Khayelitsha.

She says the youngsters from the project were eager to learn during the workshop, saying it will be a major boost ahead of their performance at the Artscape Theatre on Monday August 19.

Katase says she is an advocate for education, but in particular, a voice for women and girls in the township. And, by the end of the year, she aims to host an arts, dance and leadership workshop in neighbouring Nyanga.

“You can get yourself out of poverty by being self motivated. Maybe now the situation is not so ideal but don’t let your current circumstances determine your future.

“Always see beyond the now. Stick to your dreams. Stick to your plans. And stay in school. You will become whatever it is that you want to be,” she says.

Katase motivated fellow women, saying they should not be afraid to be vulnerable, but to motivate each other about self empowerment.

“People fought for us to be free, but we are fighting a different battle now.

“So I think we should just celebrate ourselves and not be afraid because we’re women and vulnerability comes with being a woman.

“But most importantly, we need to be self empowered,” she says.

Freelance artist Manuel, a former member of Unmute Dance Company at the Artscape Theatre, says he has been in contact with the American company for over a year and a half, through email, with the aim of getting them to visit South Africa.

“The workshop process I think is very important for South African youth to also get the feel and taste of the American way of moving and teaching and basically learning and sharing knowledge. I loved today’s workshop. I love to see kids have fun.”

He says that as much as they have learnt from the visitors, they would have left having also learnt something new.

Founder and artistic director of Karlovsky and Company Dance, Dawn Karlovsky, says through the cross-continental collaboration and conversations, they realised they were on the same page with Manuel, about dance and how to present it.

“Today’s project came about after Yaseen coordinated an opportunity for us to come here and work with the kids after we had spent a day and taught a class with the university (UCT).

We came here to share a little bit about what we can bring as a new experience that the students might have in working with us. Keep dancing, feel the love inside you and let it guide you,” she says.