Living The Ballerina Life Vicariously Through South African Ballet Icon, Kitty Phetla

Each year, young ballerinas all over the world have dreams of becoming the prima ballerina. Once a girl laces up her pointe shoes, she feels a sense of accomplishment as she balances her toes above the hardwood. Like most little girls, I became fascinated with the idea of becoming a ballerina, taking classes to learn posture and the proper techniques, using a barre. As I grew older, not only did I realize that being a ballerina was much tougher than I had expected, I also realized that one must possess an innately strong desire to keep practicing and learning how to train your body to mimic fluid movements to the music.? It?s no secret that I also dreamed of being ?Clara?, surrounded by the other ballerinas in the Nutcracker and dancing among the mice and toy soldiers as Tchiakovsky?s Waltz of the Flowers played in the background. Back when I was a girl, the image of Anna Pavlova in ?The Dying Swan? of Swan Lake was our image of the perfect prima ballerina. However, as I started to become more involved with other activities such as playing the piano and my high school?s marching band, I realized my dream of performing as a ballerina was slowly being snuffed out. But, it didn?t mean that I couldn?t live vicariously through one though, even as an adult.

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Kitty Phetla as the Queen of the Dryads. Image: SAMB

And that?s where Kitty Phetla comes in. Most ballet dancers are known for their petite frame; she is an anomaly to that comparison and defies ?ballet body? stereotypes. Kitty is tall, statuesque, and a recognizable beauty that is known across the South African ballet troupe. As I came across her name online, I decided to find out more about her and her contributions to the world of ballet.

Born and raised in the small town of Alexandria, the South African performer studied classical dance with beginnings starting right in primary school, and was trained under the direction of ballet master Martin Sch?nberg. Kitty became a principal dancer at the age of ten for the Ballet Theatre African. With a background in classical ballet, spanish dance, contemporary dance and afro-fusion, Kitty?s graceful style has allowed her to reach diverse audiences on the African continent and around the world.

Let?s face it, there are very few African ballerinas who?achieve worldwide status in the ballet industry dominated by white ballerinas.? As a tall woman of stature at 6?3?, Kitty created her own twist to ?The Dying Swan role which was previously performed by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. With a departure from the traditional costume of the white tutu and nude tights, Kitty dressed in an all-black ensemble to create the fantasy of the black dying swan following in the role made famous by Pavlova.

Kitty Phetla
Kitty Phetla as The Black Swan

In 2012, Kitty received her big break as she broke barriers in ballet by becoming the first black ballerina to perform The Dying Swan in Russia. This she recounted, was one of the most prized achievements of her career.

?I love to move and to watch people move and my movements begin with and are influenced by music. I live for this beautiful craft? Kitty says. ?My mind and soul are consumed by the art and craft of dance? she added.

After making history in Russia, Kitty has not looked back. Performing for Nelson Mandela and the Royal Dutch family in Amsterdam are just some of Kitty?s accomplishments as a ballerina. She is currently a senior soloist and choreographer with the Jo?burg Ballet and occasionally tours with other principal dancers such as Lorena Fejioo.? She is also an accomplished dance teacher who focuses on encouraging women to feel confident and good about themselves.

Burnise Silvius, Kitty Phetla and Jonathan Rodrigues pose for a picture at the 5-star DaVinci Hotel in Sandton, 4 March 2015. Joburg Ballet's production of Swan Lake runs from April 17 to May 3 on the Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre. Tickets are on sale now, only at Picture: Tracy Lee Stark
Burnise Silvius, Kitty Phetla and Jonathan Rodrigues pose for a picture at the 5-star DaVinci Hotel in Sandton. Image: Tracy Lee Stark

Though South Africa is still working to become relatively known in European contemporary and classical ballet, Kitty believes that it is developing new talent for ballet companies and aspiring dancers.

“Dreams are something you should always have? says the dancer.? It is important to know who you are and where you come from. Always believe in your inner strength.”

Kitty Phetla’s story inspires me beyond an?awe at the graceful way with which she moves on world stages.?Adrian Steirn, a photographer and filmmaker who developed ?21icons, a visual project that celebrates individuals who have influenced the world for the better?said of the performer??Kitty Phetla is a young South African woman who has emerged from the townships and become one of South Africa?s illustrious ballerinas. ?To understand the journey she?s taken to become ?The Black Swan? is an inspiring story about discipline and perseverance and what can be achieved through independent thought and focus.?

Kitty Phetla also inspires me to be a better person.


Shavonda Miles?is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA,?who?enjoys partnering with media outlets to provide quality content. Follow her on Twitter?and Facebook.