Ballroom veteran dances his way into youths’ hearts

2014-06-24 00:00

“IT’S the delicate way you hold a woman that teaches you respect. It’s the music, the rhythm and the moves as you glide across the dance floor that just takes away your stress,” says Phillip Gumede.

He was describing his passion for ballroom dancing and wants people to grasp what it has meant to him for the more than five decades that he has been twirling around dance halls across the country.

The pensioner uses his passion for dancing to give back to the community, teaching ballroom and Latin American dancing to young people in the KZN Midlands. He has been doing such great work that the Howick Chamber of Commerce have nominated him for the Nedbank Heroes Award.

Chamber president Mano Naidoo said Gumede is the dance trainer for the uMngeni Ballroom club. At the end of last year the club won accolades in the South African Championship dance competition held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban. Gumede and his partner Khombi Ntuli came out tops in the seniors’ section.

Naidoo said the main reason the chamber nominated him for the award was because Gumede was taking children off the streets and teaching them how to dance for nothing.

Naidoo spent last Saturday as a spectator at the KZN ballroom championship at the Howick West Indoor Sports Arena. He said the experience was inspiring and it was clear that Gumede was changing lives.

The ballroom expert explained how he became a dancer after an older cousin, Johannes “Boy” Gumede, left the country in 1963 and went into exile. The security police hounded the family to find out his whereabouts and whether there was any subversive activity going on in the Midlands.

As a result of this constant attention he found that there was a fair level of ostracism from the community. Team sport was not an option and having been introduced to ballroom, he found that he not only enjoyed dancing but that it was a great destressor.

Soon he was being taught by professionals — “Mthokozisi Mlothshwa and a Mr Mtshali from Estcourt”.

Gumede, who lost his wife Joyce in 1998, said she encouraged him to dance and was his dance partner as well for several years. Their two children have since taken up ballroom and Latin American dancing as a hobby.

He says he needs dancing now more than ever because it helps him get over his grief and there is a joy in giving back to the community.

He says that not only does dancing help the young people he teaches to expend their energy, it also allows them to escape the stress from their own lives. However, he added that far more than that, it teaches them discipline and values. “The way you hold a woman on the dance floor, teaches you to respect her and treat her as an equal.”

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