All the world's her stage

By Drum Digital
16 June 2016

Khensani Mathebula is realising her dance dream in New York. She tells us about her fairy-tale journey

At the age of 19 it became apparent that her life was destined for greatness when she received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pack her bags and travel to New York and pursue a dream of becoming an internationally acclaimed modern dancer.

Khensani Mathebula (24) from Kempton Park in Johannesburg is living her dream as a member of the Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company, which she joined in November 2015 under the direction of Enrique Cruz De Jesus, a well-respected dancer and choreographer in America.

“I started dancing at the age of three and would attend ballet dance classes in the evenings and weekends because my parents wanted me to go to a conventional school, not an art school, so that I could become a lawyer,” she says.

At the age of nine she joined the Royal Dance academy and just two years later she did her exam at the Association of International Dance Teachers. As a teenager she joined Moving Vision, a dance school under the direction of Vanessa Jayne Bennet, who trained her to participate in national competitions so she could qualify to represent South Africa in bigger international dance competitions.

“My first trip was to Germany and then Slovenia and I was impressed by the quality of dancing in those countries,” she says. “Their standards are really high and their style is dance show, which encompasses modern and contemporary dance.”

When she wasn’t taking dance classes she would be at home watching her favourite reality show, So You Think You Can Dance, on which she would see exciting dances by some of America’s greatest choreographers – and her dream of going to New York gained momentum.

“While watching the show I became a fan of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre which is one of the most acclaimed dance companies in the world and I dreamt of going there,” she says.

Destiny took its inevitable course and when she joined another dance company in South Africa called Laraine Rabin Dance Studio and participated in the Horton Dance Course she was scouted and accepted into the Bachelor of Fine Arts Ailey Program at Fordham University.

“By now I had followed my parents’ wishes and was studying Law at the University of Witwatersrand, but within six months of my first year I had to drop out and travel to New York to study dance full-time,” she says.

Khensani received a full scholarship at Fordham University to study for four years and says she cried on the plane on the way to New York. “My mom travelled with me and I was so excited while I was on the plane it dawned on me that I was going to New York to follow my dream and I became very emotional,” she says. “After a week I had settled at the university and my mom went back home. Suddenly I was all alone.”

Khensani says she quickly became accustomed to the culture of New York but was very homesick. “In South Africa we are exposed to American culture so I was familiar with it but being far away from home and family was challenging,” she says. “But the Americans were very supportive and welcoming, and they were impressed with my South African accent. I also often stood out because I was respectful to my teachers.”

Khensani had to maintain an A-aggregate in order to maintain her scholarship and she graduated Cum Laude in Dance and Political Science in May 2015.

“In the five years that I have been here my parents have visited me and they attended my graduation and were very proud of my accomplishments,” she says. “They will be attending my first professional production later on in the year.”

Having recently joined the Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company, Khensani has not only had the opportunity to dance in an amazing company, but she has also developed the skill of choreography.

She has also showcased her work at dance festivals. “I manage my own dance group and I think it’s phenomenal that my work is being presented alongside established choreographers’ work,” she says. “One of my shows was called Community Spirit and I infused house-music and music by the South African String Quartet and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. South African culture needs to be celebrated on international stages and to that end I try to incorporate the technical aspect with what I’ve learnt in South African street dance.”

Her sister Kensiwe (27) is also a budding star in the arts and moved to New York in 2014 on a scholarship to study Film and Acting at the New York Film Academy.

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