Dancing is the finest shortcut to happiness. So says ballet dancer Yolandi Olckers, who headlines this year’s Dance for a Cure – the annual cervical cancer awareness show. It’s billed this year as ‘Let’s do it for the boys’ as part of an initiative to highlight awareness of the human papilloma virus (HPV) as the primary cause of cervical cancer.
But boys don’t have cervixes, you might argue. Indeed: but given the fact that boys can be carriers of the virus that can lead to cervical and other cancers; and given the fact that government roll out in support of the HPV inoculation for pre-pubescent girls happened when they promised, the annual Dance for a Cure initiative has changed its own take, somewhat.
Coined in celebration of the life of Sharon Humphreys, a dancer who succumbed to cervical cancer, Dance For a Cure remains an annual diary fixture for dance lovers, and was formed into a NPO organisation in 2008.
Olckers is one of the headline dancers in this year’s concert. When she was four years old, she ‘AWOLed’ from her nursery school responsibilities to start pointing her little toes and stretching her little body.
“I said my mom said I could do it. After a month, the teacher phoned my mom, to mention that there might be some fees involved, to say nothing of shoes. More than 26 years down the line, having enjoyed her formative years under the tuition of Martin Schönberg and Ballet Theatre Afrikan, she has come into her own.
“I was a founding member of BTA,” she explains. “I started with Martin when I was 12. And there was no question after that, that this was my career. I don’t think I could have done anything else.
“While it is an elite art form, ballet is so pure. Martin made well-rounded dancers – as did choreographers Christopher Kindo and Adele Blank. Martin may have left this city and the company he started, but he is still in my bones and my brain.”
BTA disbanded due to a lack of financial support some eight years ago, and Olckers joined the then SA Ballet Theatre, based at the Joburg Theatre. Three and a half years ago, she is freelancing, doing what she loves most: teaching, dancing, flying.
“After leaving SABT, I decided to ‘hang up my shoes’, but it was such a lie for me! Ballet is my life. I did some aerial and strength work. I love the adrenalin of it all.
“I am doing ‘Me and You’ this year at Dance for a Cure. I danced this signature Christopher Kindo work many years ago, with Kitty Phetla and Thoriso Magongwa. This year, we’re dancing it for a very special reason. Christopher is currently undergoing chemotherapy for oesophageal cancer, and he will be benefiting from the production’s takings.
“Being a dancer all his career, there was never money for medical aid. There have already been various benefits for him. This wonderful man has been so formative in my career. I just had to be able to celebrate him in this manner.
“It’s a big ask,” she continues, explaining that all the dancers performing in Dance for a Cure are doing it free of charge. “In Me and You, there are 13 performers and it has been such an important and happy experience, with a deep heart and an important raison d’etre.”
Thanks to the work of BTA and other dance companies, Me and You is recognised as a standard in the litany of South African choreography. It is historically celebrated for its infusion with the diversity of Kindo’s cultural and artistic influences, as well as technical brilliance. Its vocabulary weaves together Kindo’s contemporary and classical training with overtones of Indian movement.
To date, Dance for a Cure has raised over R2 million towards immunisation against HPV. “For the last seven years, after the Dance for a Cure event, they take a group of underprivileged pre-teen girls and they vaccinate them against HPV. Right in the beginning, the government said we are looking at sponsoring this inoculation; it’s going to take about seven years, and they were completely accurate about it.
“After last year’s show, the government came through. It’s quite a process, involving two or three vaccinations. They honoured their promise. And this has given us a little bit of leeway this year in terms of what we can do with the money raised. Our decision was to keep it cancer aware. Half the takings for the event will go to help Christopher with his chemo expenses.
“And, there is a vaccination for little boys for the HPV virus, to which the other half of the show’s takings will go. Boys can become carriers of cervical cancer. Because it is a very sensitive subject, we don’t want to blame boys. We decided that this year is one for the boys. They also need help.
She mentions the celebration of Adele Blank’s 70th birthday on this forum two years ago, and the frequent presence of dancers like Camille Bracher, now based in London with the Royal Ballet in this project. This year’s programme is cropped down to one hour, with no interval.
Dance for a Cure, featuring dancers from Kelsey Middleton’s Pretoria-based KMAD dance company, as well as pole dancer Tracy Simmonds, Kristin Wilson and divas Sibongile Mngoma and Lisa Goldin and a group of tap and hip hop boys, who will be telling the boys’ story of dance.
“Giving back is important for dancers,” she brushes aside the surprise that professionals who give of their all, should do it free. “People always have this idea that dancers want, want, want because we get so little, but that is not true. We want to be able to give back.”
Every year when this project comes around, people tell me I am mad to get involved again, but I cannot move beyond that ‘what if’ reality. What if I can save the lives of five young people through this concert? What if I really can make a difference with my work?
- Dance for a Cure is at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City in Ormonde, on September 24, at 15:00. Tickets, available at Computicket are R200.