Among the handful who are on a mission to diversify ballet’s stages, one remarkable teacher zeroes in on that & makes a difference.
“Ballet is an international language – you can take ballet class anywhere and we are already united in our language,” says Kristine Elliott
Kristine is a former American Ballet Theatre soloist who has traveled to South Africa for the past 12 years to teach in the townships around Cape Town and Johannesburg. Several of the young students she has mentored have gone on to make extraordinary lives for themselves, both in South Africa and outside the country – chalking up more wins for diversity on ballet stages, and lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.
On her first trip to the country in 2004, Elliott taught for a program called Dance For All, which serves underprivileged youth in the South African townships, as well as for the University of Cape Town’s School of Dance and the associated Cape Town City Ballet Company.
She started up the Gugulethu Project.
On that trip, I witnessed firsthand how classical ballet training can bring about social change in a country where widespread poverty, violence and crime still pose serious threats to children and teens. The principles inherent in the study of ballet, including self-discipline, perseverance, respect for the self and the integrity of the body, are all transferable into the daily lives of the students who are fortunate enough to be involved in such training. – Kristine Elliott
Elliott has since returned annually from her home base in northern California. Her Gugulethu Project sends talented South African students to study in the U.S. and brings American choreographers, teachers, and dancers to teach in South Africa.
“This is not just a mission to train young dancers – it’s an exchange, a sharing of traditions. I teach, but I learn a great deal, too, from this project,” says Elliott.
She understands how arts education has been integral to the healing of South Africa post-apartheid. In addition to giving people a way of working through trauma, immersion in the arts has given impoverished children a way to imagine a better future. It has equipped them with life skills, and helped to direct them away from destructive behavior.
Seeing them succeed and, in many cases, return to their communities to act as mentors for the next generation of youngsters, has been an inspirational learning process, and one that I look forward to continuing. – Kristine Elliott
Each year the project’s net has widened as more seek to be involved. Currently, Elliott is providing assistance in many dance schools around SA. Kristine Elliott’s journey through the dance world has been an uncommon one indeed, and she has brought many along with her on this joyous and rewarding ride.