It was rather fitting that the biggest moment of the year for the dancers of the University of Fort Hare came in one of the most idyllic settings on the planet.
The team’s performances in 2023 have been beautiful to watch and now, thanks to their stellar showing at the All-African Artistic Dance Championships in the Seychelles, the world know why Alice is considered one of South Africa’s dancesport capitals.
The five couples who made the journey to Africa’s smallest nation this month came home with eight trophies and the same number of medals – a treasure trove of silverware.
Inga Mtana and Zukhanye Lupuwana took top honours in the five-dance championship category, while teammates Lubabalo Xabanisa and Nontando Tsheleza were runners-up.
In the ProAm event, where students dance with their teachers, Wanzi Maxhobi swept the boards by placing first in the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot and quickstep.
Her delighted partner, Fort Hare coach Thandisizwe Matyumza, praised all his charges, saying he could not be prouder.
The Eastern Cape team were invited to dance at the Seychelles event after impressing at the national championships last year and the university made it possible by funding the trip.
While the championships were open to anyone, the calibre of competition was out of the top drawer. Club teams from Greece, Poland, Russia and Italy were among those vying for titles across the various categories.
Matyumza, who himself represented South Africa last year, said one of his goals had been for members of his team to join him on the international stage.
What they had achieved at the competition went a long way towards achieving that, he said.
In fact, this dream can be realised sooner than expected as he awaits official confirmation of two Fort Hare dancers representing the country at the worlds next year.
“The world champs will be very, very difficult so it’s good the dancers have now had a taste of international competition. The other teams were strong, so I was surprised by the results we achieved.”
Many opponents congratulated them on their performances, he added.
As much as the team thoroughly enjoyed the Seychelles and the island nation’s “friendly people”, they were taken aback by how expensive everything was.
They got the shock of their lives when charged levies on checking out of their hotel.
“You are paying all the time in the Seychelles,” Matyumza said.
The experience did open his eyes to the fact that “a lot of fundraising” was needed to pay for trips to locations such as these.
On a positive note, he said the public were starting to recognise them.
“Fort Hare is the top dance club in the province, so there is recognition. It just needs to be taken to the next level.”
The university’s profile is set to be bolstered again when they compete at the national champs in North West next month.