Twenty of Fort Hare’s finest dancers trained six hours per day for seven days to ensure all boxes are ticked ahead of the University Sports South Africa competition in Makhanda.
For context, four football matches can be packed into six hours. Do that every 24 hours for seven days running and you will have gleaned a tiny bit about the commitment of these dancers.
The 10 couples have been in camp at the Alice campus since last weekend to work on their routines – and in the gym – in preparation of the two-day event starting at the Settlers Monument tomorrow.
According to coach Thandisizwe Matyumza, that is the level of commitment required to do well at the USSAs.
He recognises that what they lack in experience, they can make up for in other ways. The team comprise first and second-year students and the coach has placed a lot of emphasis on building both strength and confidence.
Fort Hare placed sixth the last few years and Matyumza feels his charges are now ready to take the next step.
“The challenge is that almost every year we have a new team, but at least this year we have some dancers who started last year,” he explained.
“We have had three-hour sessions twice a day. We are putting in more hours in the gym as well to build stamina and stay fit.”
Matyumza, who believes dancesport is as much a mental test as a physical one, brought in his own dance partner to motivate the couples ahead of the USSAs.
Succeeding in building their confidence could give them an edge, he said.
Another hurdle the coach often has to overcome is the fact that many of the dancers who join the club have never competed in dancesport.
This is in contrast to student dancers from bigger centres who are usually members of outside clubs as well. In Alice, Fort Hare is the only game in town, to the point that even non-students dance at the campus.
“It’s basically starting from scratch for our dancers, who then compete against more experienced opponents. Many of them come from rural areas and have never danced before.”
That is why he urges his students to have as much fun as possible.
“I want them to enjoy themselves so they can forget about couples who have been dancing for years.”
Yet, even without external clubs, the team continue to punch above their weight year after year.
No fewer than five Fort Hare couples have been selected to represent the Eastern Cape in recent times, and there is every chance more will follow in their footsteps soon.
Aphelele Bhodlisi and Lindokuhle Sibindlana are among the current standouts. They will dance for the province at the Eastern Cape championships next month and again at the South African champs in October.
Their selection is bitter-sweet as it means that they will not fly the Fort Hare flag at the USSAs.
While their absence will no doubt be felt, Matyumza is encouraged by what he has seen at the training camp.
“The dancers are excited and there is good spirit. With enough confidence, I believe we can achieve anything.”