Noluyanda Mqulwana, Nolly for short, grew up in the township of Khayelitsha near Cape Town in South Africa. Growing up, Nolly saw that many of her neighbors didn't have a plan for their future. To give herself something to work for, she began studying ballet with Dance for All
at the age of nine. She knew that dancing would give her the strength to avoid the pitfalls of her peers, but she never imagined the adventures she would find on this career path!
Now, she's coming to New York City to dance in Mother Africa: My Home
with a company of dancers, musicians and acrobats from all over Africa! We spoke to her about her inspiring journey...
1. In your own words, what was your childhood like?
Coming from a disadvantaged community, I had nothing to do after school. A lot of my peers didn't care about the future ahead and sat around, doing nothing. Because of this and other bad influences, many sadly fell victim to HIV.
Even at a young age, I knew dancing would both keep me busy and give me strength to avoid getting involved with the wrong crowd.
2. Can you describe the moment when you first fell in love with dance?
I fell in love with dance when I was about nine. I was always an active kid who liked playing sports, so when I heard that my school would offer dance classes, I got very excited! I really did fall in love at my first lesson.
I was so enthusiastic when I started that I constantly wore my ballet slippers so I could practice all the time!
3. How would your life be different if you weren't a dancer?
I wouldn’t have been as disciplined or driven as I am today. Also, if I didn’t have dance, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school. Since I was raised by a single parent, I would’ve started working at a very young age to help my mother. I still had to work to help support my family, but I was able to both go to school and work as a dance teacher.
4. What is it like to be a dancer in such a large circus troupe?
Since I come from a classical ballet background, it’s a totally different world for me. Even the music and scenery on the stage are different! It’s been incredibly fun to go from the technical world of ballet to really "get down" with a type of dance called pantsula.
Another big difference is the amount of stamina involved. I used a certain amount of energy as a ballet dancer, but Mother Africa
requires a lot more. Cardio needed to become one of my passions, too. I thank God every day that I’m able to be a diverse dancer!
5. Which act in Mother Africa: My Home is your favorite to watch?
Honestly, all of them are my favorite, because each artist works with such focus and discipline. If I had to pick, I’d choose the smaller transition moments between each act. In these few minutes, the artists are challenged to find and connect with the idea of "home." When the transitions happen, these artists are given a freedom to move creatively, which helps the whole production grow.
6. When did you start traveling? Do you have a favorite place you've been to?
I started traveling when my professional career was just starting, at seventeen years old. It’s been a dream come true!
It’s hard to have a favorite place. Ever since I started traveling, I've always liked to stay in a country long enough to learn as much as I can about it. Then, if opportunities arise, I move on to the next one. However, Germany stole my heart five years ago, and it’s still my home to this day. So, that would have to be my favorite place... for now!
7. Why do you think it's important to teach kids about dance?
Back in the day, dancing was ignored since most people didn't think you could make much money as a professional performer. Today, kids have the opportunity to choose something that might not be the most conventional way to earn a living, but gives them joy and happiness. Even if kids don’t pursue dance professionally, it keeps them healthy and teaches them a lot of principles like dedication and discipline.
8. What's your favorite form of dance?
All dance forms are my favorite! I live my life through movement and, because of that, I have to be ready for all kinds of styles... and I love each and every one.
||See Nolly in action at Mother Africa: My Home. This exciting circus spectacular runs from now until January 1st. Get your tickets here!