Dancer steps up to develop young talent

* For more than 30 years, Ricardo Koopman has been teaching dance to youngsters across Cape Town.

It has been a long, often difficult but ultimately rewarding journey for Hout Bay dance sensation Ricardo Koopman.

With his sights now firmly set on once more overseeing dance classes in the village of his birth, his career is coming full circle – and he couldn’t have wished for anything more.

Today, as the founder of Ricardo’s Modern Dance Studio, he develops the skills of more than 400 youngsters from around Cape Town, working out of Ellerton Primary School in Sea Point, Milnerton and the German International School in Tamboerskloof (“Dance through struggles”, Atlantic Sun, June 14).

Despite the oppressive apartheid laws, Mr Koopman refused to give up his dream of performing and did whatever was required to set him on his way.

“I would knock on the doors of homes in the white community. I needed dance shoes, and so I asked everyone I could,” he recalled.

“I remember my mom gave me a beautiful blue silk suit. I was walking in the street one day and the cops stopped me. They asked me where I had got the suit, because they thought I had stolen it. They locked me up for the night.”

While the unjust attentions of the authorities were commonplace, he said there were many “amazing” people in the community, among them an actress called Pippa Duffy who welcomed him into her drama classes.

Mr Koopman’s love of music and dance grew from the Sunday shows he heard on his parents’ small radio. “I loved listening to the opera.”

During his formative years, he enjoyed the support of his parents, although in a conservative community his love of dance and performance did not go down well with everyone.

“There was a lot of pressure, and I was often teased and mocked. People didn’t accept the fact that I wore tight pants. I could never really be myself. That forced me to play different characters in different situations. I do think it made me stronger though.”

Mr Koopman began a small community dance project in Hout Bay, but at the age of 23 left the community to broaden his horizons. Shortly after he embarked on this new chapter in his life, he met a man who was to be his partner for the next 30 years.

He furthered his training with Johaar Mosavaal and Jazzart’s Sue Parker, and went on to complete his teaching degree through the International Dance Teachers’ Association.

He then joined the Observatory Circus where he was given the chance to showcase his dancing abilities. After regularly performing at Artscape and the Baxter Theatre, he also completed a modern dance class in New York and has appeared on children’s programmes on South African television.

As word of his prowess as a dancer spread, so parents recognised that he would be the ideal coach to develop the skills of their children. Thus Ricardo’s Modern Dance Studio was born.

“I place a big emphasis on teaching the kids morals and the right way to do things. It’s things like presentation and the importance of basic hygiene. For example, I tell them to shave their armpits because when they perform no one wants to see a bush there. I tell them, ‘This is not Kirstenbosch’,” he quipped.

“I am very grateful to the German School, which has helped me to earn money so I can continue to do what I’m doing.

“Music and dance are my passion. They kept me away from drugs and crime, and that is something I want the kids to understand. It is not just about teaching them dance, it is also about teaching them self-discipline.”

Mr Koopman is known for having a huge heart, regardless of where he finds himself in the world.

“I was in Thailand during the tsunami (2004). To have actually been there and seen the loss I thought that I needed to make a difference, so I have been using the only tool I have, dance, to teach classes in Thailand every year since.