Motsi Mabuse has told how she struggled to find a dance teacher because of vile racial hatred while growing up in South Africa.
The Strictly judge revealed the bitter apartheid system nearly wrecked her and sister Oti’s dreams of performing.
She said: “Finding people to give us the instructions was difficult.”
They grew up in bitterly divided South Africa, where they had to travel to school on separate buses from white children – often past the burnt-out cars and buildings torched in riots.
Motsi, 38, said: “It was a very difficult time in South Africa, so to be a little girl and push yourself in this type of dancing, where there are no other black girls, was really tough.
“And when we did get the chance to learn the waltz and the cha cha cha, at a weekend club, we were soon better than the teacher.” Motsi saw black and white couples compete at a ballroom tournament while on holiday in Durban and begged her mum Dudu to let her and Oti, who is also on Strictly, learn.
But as there were no dance classes in their area, Dudu hired a room at a local kindergarten and enlisted a teacher to put on classes just for the girls. Motsi added: “Our parents made a lot of sacrifices because dancing is not the cheapest sport.
“The dresses are expensive, so my mum learned to sew, and she started a catering company to pay for the lessons and the travel abroad for competitions.”
Motsi, who has a one-year-old daughter with Ukrainian dancer husband Evgenij Voznyuk, was born in Kraalhoek, North West Province, in 1981. The area was known as Bophuthatswana under apartheid.
She moved with Oti, Dudu and dad Peter, a lawyer, to the township of Mabopane near the capital Pretoria two years later.
Despite their relative privilege, signs of racial tension were everywhere. Motsi and Oti found dancing a way to escape the reality.
She has said: “I’m so thankful for dance because if I had grown up with just the bitterness of the very hard childhood we had, and I’d never experienced the love of the dance world, then I probably would have been a very sad person.”
And she opened up about being raised surrounded by unrest in her autobiography, Chili In The Blood. Motsi said: “We always knew when riots had broken out because we weren’t allowed to leave the house, even to go to school. Then the next day, I could see it was still burning everywhere.”
And she still had to deal with race issues on Strictly, since taking over from Darcey Bussell on the panel alongside Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli. Motsi, who worked on German TV show Let’s Dance, reportedly had to increase her security after being targeted by white supremacists who bombard her with racial abuse.
And dancer Louie Spence branded her appointment a “box-ticking exercise”.
But she hit back: “You’ll always have someone attacking you in some way. But it’s weird from someone who’s never met you. But there is already a woman of colour in this show, Oti.”
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