Twenty-three year old Andile Ndlovu is a rarity: he is a black South African male ballet dancer. Before his amazing success, stringing those words together was never done. As a black man in South Africa, an African country still plagued by issues of racism despite the end of apartheid, he is defying racial stereotypes by engaging in an activity that was widely viewed as one for the white elite alone. As a black ballet dancer, he is challenging the stereotype that ballet is only for women and that men who partake of the dance are weak or effeminate. On the contrary, he argues, “ballet is definitely for men; the men bring the strength.”
Before his many great accomplishments, Andile had more than a few obstacles to overcome. Andile was raised by a single mother who is also a former dancer. He grew up in rough Soweto townships and often faced ridicule for his pursuit of the dance he loved.
Never giving up on his dreams and relying on the support of his mother, sister and close friends, Andile never stopped dancing. He practiced his art daily. His hard work eventually paid off in 2008 when he was accepted into the Washington Ballet, one of the most prestigious dance companies in the U.S. He has gone on to win international and South African awards and has performed wonderfully in various major productions around the world, including “Don Quixote” and “The Nut Cracker.”
For continually defying the odds and being an example to others that sometimes, the best paths are those previously uncharted, Andile Ndlovu is a cultural icon of this generation. From him, we can learn that your circumstances and society’s expectations do not define you.