Previous school syllabuses didn’t really accommodate artistic students by giving them a platform to express their ‘inner artist’. But more and more schools are now offering Performing Arts as a subject – an alternative for the pupils who don’t wish to pursue careers that demand Mathematics or Science. Eighteen-year-old Monique Willemse fortunately was able to do dance as a subject at school, and she couldn’t be happier.

“I did dance for five years at the school as a subject and that’s when my love for dance grew stronger. My teacher introduced me to Dance for All (DFA) after completing my matric in 2015 and told me that I could go far with my dance. I came here and on the first day and I just loved what I saw,” says the young lady.

However, as time went on, she had uncertainties and doubts about the path she had chosen.

“Things got challenging and I told my mom that, ‘Mommy, this course is not for me at all!’ But she responded that, ‘Monique, you said dance is your life. Now take the opportunity with both hands and run with it! Ask God to help you – dance is where your future lies.”

Monique had finished her school years in Worcester and then relocated to Athlone, Cape Town, to realise her dreams.

“Where I come from is a small area where there’s drugs and alcohol. There was lot of gangsterism, even within the school premises, and I told my mom that I wanted to leave that place after matric. The situation here in Athlone is no different but dance keeps me too busy to be caught up in the mix.”

“People want to befriend me but I have to turn them down because I might involve myself with the wrong crowd. Sometimes I do feel that I’m missing out on things … but then I remember that once you’re in deep in the streets of Athlone, it’s hard to make it out alive.”
Monique’s evident strong discipline was nurtured by a single mother alongside one sister, but she admits that life wasn’t easy for them.

“It was hard cos I could I see that my mom was struggling to do it on her own. But she didn’t want to let it show; she hid it from us. My aunt helped here and there but my mom wanted to raise her kids on her own. We didn’t understand why our father wasn’t there. I would ask my mother, ‘Why is Dad not with me? Am I not beautiful enough?’” she recalls.

Young Monique may hold poses during dance routines but she’s not the one to hold grudges.

“If I were to meet my father I’d tell him, ‘Let’s put the past behind us.’ Forgiveness is important because hatred and having a grudge will destroy you inside. It’s like drinking acid just to spite someone else – you are the one who gets destroyed at the end!” she maintains.

Only a handful of people approve when someone chooses a unique career path and Monique’s choice wasn’t immune to criticism.

“When I told people I wanted to pursue dance classes after school everyone was like, ‘Why dance? That thing doesn’t even make money!’ But I told them it’s not about the money, it’s about the inner peace that it brings you. Nobody knows how you feel inside but through dance you can express yourself. You might end up doing worse things if you’re after money,” she advises, simply tap-dancing on those negative remarks.

“I want to make something out of my life. I chose to go further with dance cos I need to show people that you can achieve something out of it. I see myself as a professional contemporary dancer in the future.

“My mother has always been the source of inspiration. I always looked at her and I know that I need to make her proud to have mothered me, as she suffered a lot raising us alone.”
Monique has a little advice to all her peers who could be going through adversities in their lives.

“No matter what your circumstances are or what you are going through in life, just know that the One above is looking down on you. You need to be focused with your goals set straight. I want to be an inspiration to all the township children.

“I want to show them they can do anything they set their hearts to. I want them to look at me and say: ‘If Monique could make it that far in life then nothing can stop me from achieving my own dreams,” she concludes.