Visionary South African dancer Dada Masilo

Dance your way to the top

Words: Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi
Photography: Chris Saunders

Visionary South African dancer Dada Masilo has learnt the hard way how to make dance pay

At the age of 14, Dada Masilo realised that she had found her “thing”, that one thing that she was most passionate about – dance. That passion has spurred her on in hard times, but an equally important ingredient in her career has been her ability to mould her style according to the needs of the time. An insatiable thirst for knowledge is behind Masilo’s experiments with dance styles: she has studied classical ballet, created contemporary dance pieces and flirted with flamenco. Of course, if, like Masilo, you’re beating a path in directions never yet taken before, you’re going to need truckloads of determination to drown out the nay-sayers.

A determined Masilo has successfully fused African dance with ballet even when sceptics abounded, but she also drew heavily on these seven qualities for success:

#1: Ambition

Comfort is a foreign feeling for most successful dancers because their ambition constantly spurs them on to new and better works. Even when a career as a ballet dancer beckoned, Masilo followed her ambition and went the contemporary dance route. “Being a contemporary dancer really helped because I’ve created my own opportunities and I’ve made my own work,“ she says. “I’ve been able to use my own voice as opposed to being in line, waiting so long for something.”

#2: Boldness

There comes a time when you can’t prepare yourself for the next step any more than you already have. That is the moment when you take a leap of faith. According to Masilo: “You just have to be bold and say ‘OK, now I’m just going to follow my heart and I’m going to jump.’”

#3: Focus

Dancers typically spend long hours creating works and in rehearsals for upcoming performances. Despite needing to be mentally present like that, it’s important to also keep long-term goals in mind. Although Masilo decided not to take the classical ballet route (which often means waiting years for a principal role in a company), she keeps her long-term career goals in mind and works towards them daily.

Dada Masilo giving ballet an African beat

The 30-year old Dada Masilo has fused African dance and European ballet successfully

#4: Team spirit

Even as an accomplished individual dancer, to be truly successful you will work in a team with different people on and off stage. Speaking about the dancers in her company, Masilo says: “We are like a family but everybody works really hard. There are dancers that I have been working with for a long time.”

“Being a contemporary dancer really helped because I’ve created my own opportunities and I’ve made my own work”
Dada Masilo

#5: Keep a cool head

Dance is not just about what happens on stage. It’s about making the right decisions for your brand and your business too. “I’m fortunate enough to have who deals with the business side for me because it gives me time to be in the studio and work. But I do have to OK everything and I have to agree to the contracts. It’s a little bit stressful but you’ve got to be awake. You’ve got to know what’s going on.“

Visionary South African dancer Dada Masilo

Follow South Africa’s ballett dancer Dada Masilo on Twitter!

#6: Respect your body

Different kinds of dance demand different kinds of bodies. It’s important to be in tune with that and respect your body as an instrument with which you create your art. Masilo’s advice is to keep as healthy as possible and maintain your strength.

#7: Respect change

All industries change constantly and your body will change as you age too. In just one year, Masilo has had to take stock of physical and emotional changes that happen within and around her. “I’m a bit more mature,” she says. “I have a greater understanding of my body and how to work with it, so it’s not just bash bash but really feeling it. And I’m enjoying performing more and more. I’m a little bit slower than I was last year in terms of speed, in terms of movement. But I feel that my performance quality has grown.“

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09 2015

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