Sigiya Sonke (meaning “Dance Together”) is a group that empowers disadvantaged young people through dance. Also known as Youth Stand Together, based in Alexandra Township, the group is led by Jack Letsoela and his wife Beauty, who both grew up in Alex and understand the difficulties faced by young people. Taking young people off the streets to give them the opportunity to learn to dance, Jack teaches them traditional, hip-hop, pantsula, R&B, gumboots and modern dance. In the 30 years since the group was started, over 1 000 children have benefitted from its activities, and have won many trophies and competitions, for example, gaining first place in the world hip-hop championships in Prague in 2006 and winning the 2023 South African pantsula competition.
Dance is a way of empowering children, giving them tools such as confidence-building and social skills. These attributes help with their education, and we have watched many of the alumni rise successfully in their various tertiary careers.
The streets of Alex are tough, and poverty, unemployment and crime are endemic. Many young people are struggling to survive with either one or both parents absent or deceased due to HIV/AIDS and other illnesses … some may have only one grandparent on whom to rely, others are from child-headed households. Nonetheless, there is a spirit of hope and optimism among the young people despite their deprived backgrounds. Sigiya Sonke is so much more than a dance group with Jack and Beauty providing valuable counselling, support and friendship to the young people. Since 2005, Gumboots Foundation has funded the group’s essential expenses, the cost of their outings, performances, new costumes, instruments, school uniforms, as well as the meals provided by Beauty and her team.
About 25 years have passed since Sigiya Sonke first began in an abandoned warehouse, with Jack and his students training daily in conditions that were either stiflingly hot in summer or freezing in winter, often by candlelight. Gumboots funded the renovation of the warehouse, but sadly this was taken over by squatters and finally destroyed by fire. Jack then moved the rehearsals to his small backyard, which was far from ideal. Something had to change!
Over the last 5 years, Gumboots has made great strides to secure a home for the dance group … a site was purchased with generous personal donations from two donors, and money was raised at Gumboots UK’s Christmas Craft Market and The Big Give Christmas Challenge to help fund this first phase of the Sakhimfundo Youth Programme for a Performing Arts Centre. Ten recycled shipping containers were obtained (a popular affordable building method in South Africa) and they were converted into changing rooms, showers and toilets for the dancers, storage for their instruments and costumes, a kitchen to provide meals, an office, and facilities for a site caretaker. The group now had a safe and secure place to gather and rehearse – work then began on the second phase to build the learning centre.
The dream of this programme was finally realised with the official opening of the Sakhimfundo Youth Programme NPC early in 2023. As a joint venture involving Gumboots SA, Gumboots UK, Kidlinks World USA, and the Kadey Family Charitable Corp in Canada, it provides a much-needed home for the Sigiya Sonke dance group and a learning centre for children and young people.