Cross-Continental Connections: LINES Ballet + Gugulethu Ballet Project

As the pandemic persists and the Bay Area maintains its stay-at-home mandates, LINES Ballet’s education programs and Dance Center continue to operate virtually into 2021. Reflecting back on some of the unexpected highlights of last year, we recognize that one of the encouraging benefits of shifting online has been the broadening global reach. In the first ten months of conducting classes online, LINES Dance Center brought 798 classes to 2,660 students, connecting people from across 22 countries through dance. Our education program faculty has been Zoom-ing in from Germany to Senegal and everywhere in between to teach students from Mexico, Haiti, Canada, Singapore, Italy, New Zealand, and across the USA.

Going digital has also allowed LINES Ballet to expand its relationship with Gugulethu Ballet Project. Founded by former American Ballet Theatre dancer (and Oakland native) Kristine Elliott, Gugulethu teaches ballet in South African townships as a vehicle for inspiring perseverance, resilience, and focus in the local youth. In past years, Gugulethu has brought students to San Francisco to attend the LINES Ballet Summer Program (learn about two alumni here). We continued the tradition in 2020 as the project connected us with three young South African artists – Thimna, Chuma, and Aphiwe – who participated in the Online Advanced Summer Program. Furthermore, since the summer Company Dancer Adji Cissoko has taught classes for Gugulethu’s larger student base. 

We asked Thimna, Chuma, Aphiwe, and Adji to weigh in on what this cross-continental connection has meant to them:

Thimna tuning in for a Summer Program class

Thimna: “I was completely stunned by the enormity of the program and how it embraced so much … I feel I have been exposed to many different artists with different styles of teaching. It has helped me to develop more perspective and appreciation for this amazing opportunity. I have much to think about as I move ahead in my life and dancing career.”

Aphiwe: “What I learnt throughout [LINES repertoire class] is that sometimes, when someone teaches you something, you do not do it the way he or she did it. You have to do it in your own way because you won’t feel what they feel when they’re doing it”

Chuma: “I was kinda nervous about how it will turn out, but I told myself to relax and have fun. I learnt that the way to dance choreography is not to just do the steps, but to dance them out in a specific way and use your emotions to flow.”

Adji: “Working with Gugulethu Ballet Project was definitely one of my quarantine highlights! Their excitement brought me so much joy and inspired me during these difficult months. They reminded me that dancing doesn’t have to be linked to anything else but the joy from within… meaning that even though I was stuck at home with limited space and only carpet surface I could still dance and nourish my passion all the same! I’m excited to continue teaching in South Africa… virtually for the time being, but hopefully in person eventually!”

Adji teaching a special class for the Gugulethu Ballet Project

It has been inspiring to witness the amplification of our programming in the online space which has propelled LINES’ unique training philosophy to new corners of the world. With that in mind, throughout January and February LINES Ballet Summer Program is hosting a series of one-day virtual workshops for ages 11-25 that will be held in various global time zones. These “LINES Day” workshops are six hours long and offer a taste of our dynamic online curriculum through classes in Ballet, LINES Repertoire, and Improvisation/Contemporary. Dancers may attend a LINES Day as a standalone immersive experience or can choose to use the workshop as their audition to the 2021 Online Summer Program. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to train with our faculty in a time zone convenient for you!

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