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Tarryn Alberts

All For 1

Dance Changes Lives

Tarryn Alberts is a South-African dancer and choreographer based in Johannesburg. She’s toured the globe and shared stages with stars, but her greatest achievement to date? So Dope Dance Academy—a dance school for the kids in the township where she was raised and still lives today.

There’s no question—Tarryn Alberts was born to dance. “My mother said I could dance before I could walk,” she says. “I started formal training when I was nine and turned pro when I was 17.” She shrugs, grinning: “I shouldn’t have been working yet, but we were already doing so many gigs and getting paid.”

Since then, Tarryn has danced the world over. She’s toured the globe backing huge acts with audiences in their thousands, sharing stages with the likes of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. She’s featured in over fifty South African music videos, and even made her big-screen debut.

But despite her international success, Tarryn doesn’t ever forget where she came from. In fact, she’s still there.

Tarryn has lived in Eldorado Park, a suburban township of Johannesburg affectionately known as Eldos, almost all her life. “I can’t just say it’s a poor community, because there are spectrums of poverty. For example, we have a lot of small businesses developing—but there’s a 40% unemployment rate. Like today, it’s a weekday, people should be at work. But they’re not. They’re out in the streets, busy doing small bit-jobs and hustling. Trying to make some income to feed their family tonight.”

Housing is crowded in Eldos, and Tarryn stresses how easy it is to become a statistic. “I could’ve been on the streets slanging, selling dope,” she says. “I could’ve had a baby in high school.” Tarryn feels lucky that dancing took her in a different direction. “Dancing keeps you busy, it keeps you off the streets,” she says. “Dance is a lifesaver.”

But Tarryn didn’t just want to keep her lifeline to herself—she wanted to extend it to her local community. So she opened a dance school: a studio in her own home. It’s free, runs six days a week, offers mentorship programmes, and is open to all the local kids she can get through the door.

“So Dope Dance Academy is about so much more than just dancing,” she says. “On a practical level, it’s about discipline. Their homelives might be a free-for-all, and the concept of time here is so blurred because we think we have our own time—African time—but we don’t. You need to be on time for your job, your rehearsals, your life.

“It’s also about confidence,” Tarryn continues. “People of colour don’t really have confidence, they walk into a room looking down. And in this community, these kids’ families might not have the time to nurture their self-esteem. So here in this safe space, through dance, we create a family. And a sense of belonging that gives you confidence and purpose. It gives you all those things that at home you maybe don’t have.”

Tarryn is always thinking about how these smaller lessons within her dance academy can help shape her students’ futures. Every day is kicked off with a special workshop: Power Hand. Each child pick five strengths (one per finger) to focus on that day. It could be that they’re caring, persistent, honest, trustworthy, committed—anything positive they see in themselves. They then do breathing exercises with their hands to ensure these strengths are always front of mind.

By building these foundations of discipline and self-belief, dancing gives the kids the opportunity to transport themselves—both physically and mentally.

Tarryn is always thinking about how these smaller lessons within her dance academy can help shape her students’ futures. Every day is kicked off with a special workshop: Power Hand. Each child pick five strengths (one per finger) to focus on that day. It could be that they’re caring, persistent, honest, trustworthy, committed—anything positive they see in themselves. They then do breathing exercises with their hands to ensure these strengths are always front of mind.

By building these foundations of discipline and self-belief, dancing gives the kids the opportunity to transport themselves—both physically and mentally.

“Some of them have never been outside of this community,” she explains. “They just go to the shop down the road and then go back home. But with dance they’ve been able to. I took the kids on this excursion once, to dance in an art gallery and then to Shelf Life, the sneaker store. It’s like you just showed them a whole new world, that they can be a part of too. But the mental travel is the most important thing of all. Even just dancing back in the studio in Eldos, you’re forcing them to think about different things and see that there’s a different way of life, a different way to be—not just sitting in the hood. It’s like a mind transformation.”

“And even if they just look at me as a role model,” she continues, “I talk like them, I look like them, I live in their community. And I’m doing this, I’m working with Nike! It makes them realise that if I can do what I’m doing—so can they. There’s so much talent in this community that’s been undiscovered. That’s what I want to show these kids—it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter what’s going on at home. You can transform. You can achieve your dreams.”

And for Tarryn, the beauty of it all is that you don’t need anything to dance. “You just need music—and here everyone’s a DJ or a rapper or a singer,” she laughs. “And the spirit of community, of family, of togetherness. Ubuntu. That’s what keeps it all alive. And that’s what’s so dope.”

Ready to show off your moves? Sign up below for dance workshops with Tarryn and other community events around the city.