Ballet has long since been associated with young white girls in pink tutus and cute buns. However at UJ, students of all ages (and racial groups as well as gender) are getting the opportunity to learn this discipline of dance as well as reap the many benefits that come with it. Through these classes, a change in attitude towards the limitations and misconceptions of ballet is taking place. This change is slowly taking shape with students ranging in age and race, gender and ability as well as including students who also play soccer and rugby.
“I wanted these classes to be an active transgression in a philosophical sense,” said Professor Catherine Botha, a philosophy lecturer at UJ specializing in aesthetics and more specifically the aesthetics of dance, who started the classes in early 2015. “For me, what’s so wonderful with this opportunity that I have is, first of all, I get to give back to young people and that means of any age, of any race, of any persuasion, of any gender to come and dance. To come and enjoy dance and so change what it means when we talk about ballet.”
“Ballet is not reserved for certain people of a certain age, of a certain race, of a certain sex. Ballet is something everyone can do and everybody can enjoy and everybody can change and develop,” said Botha.
Botha uses her love for ballet to help her students learn more about the art of dance and use it to better themselves in many ways. Botha notes that while there are many opportunities for students to be involved in sports as well as music, there was no opportunity for students to learn the art of dance. When a group of first years that she was teaching asked if she could teach them the art of ballet, after she had told them her specialisation in the aesthetics of dance, Botha began looking into what she needed in order to start her class. She also gained support from the UJ Arts Centre that allowed her to use a studio for free which in turn allowed her to make her classes for free.
Another project that Botha is breaking boundaries through is with her student, Daniel Gatonye, who joined the ballet classes to improve his soccer skills. They aim is start a project with “the guys at biokinetics” to assess how learning and practicing ballet can actually improve soccer players ability to perform on the field.
There are many benefits that ballet offers that better not only the body but also the mind according to Botha. These benefits including teaching discipline and self-control, perseverance and even courageousness as well as to learn about the body and how it moves which effectively affects how the students move all the time. Other benefits also include teaching the students how to memorise and even work with other people in a better way as well as respect them and their bodies. These benefits can positively impact other aspects in their life.
The success of these classes is shown by how it has expanded in the past two years. The classes began with a group of 7 students and has since grown to include three different classes for over 30 students with varying experience and two more teachers.
Botha’s vision is clear in this sense. By giving UJ students the opportunity to learn ballet, it can lead to a change in how the dance is seen as well as break the boundaries that have surrounded it for so long. It can create unity and common ground that was previously not thought of.