17 March 2022

University of East London (UEL) dance students have taken part in an exclusive online masterclass with iconic dance maker Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe.

The second-year students from the School of Arts and Creative Industries joined contemporaries from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and University of Pretoria in South Africa for the class hosted by internationally-renowned Mr Mantsoe, in partnership with Flatfoot Dance Company.

In another example of the benefit of deep industry connections, UEL students were the only UK dancers outside of South Africa to take part in the masterclass.

The invitation was extended to the University due to research collaboration between Dr Sarahleigh Castelyn, reader in Performing Arts, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Flatfoot Dance Company's artistic director Dr Lliane Loots.

Vincent Mantsoe was born in Soweto in South Africa in, 1971 during the height of apartheid. He is regarded as the godfather of contemporary dance in Africa. In the '90s, he developed his own Afro-fusion method of performance and choreography, drawing on African and Western dance forms and Asian martial arts.

He is hailed as one of Africa's most iconic dance makers. He blends African traditions and contemporary dance techniques with Aboriginal, Asian, Indian and Balinese influences, also drawing on ballet, Tai-chi and martial arts practices too, a fusion that has made him one of the world's most sought-after performers and teachers.

As part of the masterclass, the dance students worked closely with Mr Mantsoe, studying his work and processes and experiencing his KOBA dance technique which explores dance styles as well as the spirituality of his creative process. Mr Mantsoe describes this as "borrowing" from his ancestors.

Student Chloe Tettey, who is studying BA (Hons) Dance Urban Practice, took part in the exclusive event. She told of her joy working with Mr Mantsoe, and how she intended to use the experience to develop her practice.

"It was an incredible experience. I'm a hip-hop freestyle dancer so, in terms of movement, it was a challenge. But I learned so much about movement and breathing, and how to harness my energy both mentally and physically. 

"I was particularly interested in the connection of breathing to spirituality. Vincent Mantsoe explained that we all have a seed in our stomach, and in order for that seed to grow, branch out and fill the whole body with energy, we need to understand our breathing through movement. Once we master this it will lead to understanding our self.

"He also told us how connecting to our ancestors played an important part in our spiritual connection and energy. This really resonated with me. I come from an African background but have little understanding of that side of my heritage. During the masterclass, I felt myself connecting deeply to the importance of ancestors.

"The opportunity to work with Vincent Mantsoe has really helped me to look at life differently, not only within dance but also my personal life. I realise now that everybody's personal growth varies in their journey and that people use their energies in different and diverse ways.

"Breathing more deeply, connecting to my ancestors, controlling my movement will lead to me having more patience with others which, in turn, will allow me to look at life differently - and to understand myself more clearly. I will be forever grateful for this experience with Vincent Mantsoe - and to UEL which is consistently guiding me professionally and developing my understanding of the dance industry and dance culture."

Speaking about the opportunity for her students, Dr Castelyn said, "Due to UEL's ongoing partnership through my research and research-informed teaching with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Flatfoot Dance Company in South Africa, our dance students were the only UK students invited to this special masterclass.

"This is a great example of how the University of East London is decolonising the curriculum and is actively making links across the global north and global south that will open up so many unique experiences and career opportunities to our students."

Image: Vincent Mantsoe with the Flatfoot Dance Company, taken by Val Adamson

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