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South African Dancer Flies High in D.C.

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Andile Ndlovu began training in Latin American and in ballroom dance at age 10. At 15, he began training in ballet with Martin Schöenberg, director of Ballet Theatre Afrikan.
Steve Vaccariello
Andile Ndlovu began training in Latin American and in ballroom dance at age 10. At 15, he began training in ballet with Martin Schöenberg, director of Ballet Theatre Afrikan.

Andile Ndlovu is an internationally acclaimed dancer, and a member of The Washington Ballet.

He hails from Soweto, in Johannesburg, South Africa: the townships that were once at the heart of the apartheid struggle. When he started dancing as a young boy, local kids would tease him for doing ballet; they considered it elitist, for white people only, and especially unsuitable for boys.

He began dancing hip-hop, Latin American and ballroom, and made the transition to ballet at 15. Several years later, he tied for a gold medal at the South African International Ballet Competition. That's when Washington Ballet director Septime Webre offered Ndlovu a scholarship to come to Washington, D.C., and study dance.

Now, at age 24, Ndlovu has a slew of awards under his belt, and is choreographing his first full-length work with The Washington Ballet. It's called "The Guardian of the Pool," and is part of a world-premiere ballet called Once Upon a Time. Ndlovu says this particular story is especially close to his heart, since it's based on an old fairy tale from Nelson Mandela children's books.

"It talks about a little boy, a chief's son," says Ndlovu, "[and] a water witch casts a spell on him to make him guard the pool as a python--a python that comes with healing, as well for men and women, children, for any illness."

Ndlovu says he loves Washington, D.C., more and more, with each passing year. He especially enjoys the cultural diversity and bevy of museums. But ever summer he looks forward to going back home, to South Africa.

"My mother calls it 'come back and get your blessings,'" he says. "Come back and get more blessings and then go back and carry on doing whatever you do."

The Washington Ballet's Once Upon a Time has four performances this weekend, at The Town Hall Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast D.C.


[Music: "I've Got the World on a String" by The Glendon Smith Quintet from Gourmet Jazz]

Photos: South African Dancer

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