Port Elizabeth’s Dane Hurst was voted the best male dancer in the UK at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards this week.
Beating other nominees from The Royal Ballet, Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet and English National Ballet, Hurst is part of the Rambert Dance Company, the oldest ballet company in Britain.
â€œIt’s such a privilege to win this award. I’ve been dancing professionally for 10 years and it’s a great reward for being away from home for so long. It has always been my dream to be a dancer in London and that has now been fulfilled by receiving this prestigious accolade,” says Hurst, 29, who has been with the London company since 2004.
He started dancing at the Toynbee Ballet School in Port Elizabeth while moving between Gelvandale, Booysen Park, Salsoneville and Salt Lake, the rough, neglected areas of the city.
â€œWhen I was a kid I used to lie under the table and watch feet dancing all day while my grandmother made costumes for a small dance studio in my neighbourhood. I did break-dancing and all kinds of sport like football then I heard about the Toynbee Studio, which was situated on the outskirts of a very hostile suburb in a disused municipal building,” he recalls.
â€œWhen I walked into the studio I didn’t know what I was doing. I was transfixed by this beautiful chaos, the movement, the music, the smell. Then I saw one boy jumping around higher than anybody else. Before seeing him, it had never occurred to me to try dancing myself. That was it.”
One of their students had won the National Society of Dance Teachers (NSDT) bursary award in Johannesburg to train in London. When he heard about that, he decided he wanted to do the same. â€œIt became a blind obsession. Gwen Mary Wells was my very supportive teacher, and never questioned my motives!”
Hurst won the NSDT bursary and received additional funding from the Linbury Trust and Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial trust fund.
He found that life as a dancer in Britain was massively hard work. “When it comes to training, the Rambert School normally trains Mondays to Saturday, for up to 44 hours a week. On tour, which is three quarters of the year, we work from 12pm — 10pm. It’s quite a lot of dancing.”
When he sustained an ankle injury he was forced to turn to choreography and was nominated to create a work for the Place Prize, a prestigious choreographic platform in the UK with a prize fund of £35,000.
“I have since then regularly choreographed for Rambert’s Evening of New Choreography, have received numerous choreographic commissions and have just completed a two year MA Choreography degree with Central School of Ballet. I’m at my physical peak and approaching the end of my dancing career but still have a few years left and hope to travel and dance wherever the momentum takes me, especially in South Africa.
â€œNone of my family members have seen me dance professionally and I hope to one day invite my mother and three sisters over to see me dance here in London. My father passed away six months after I left for London.
“It’s such a crazy world, you never can tell what lies around the corner, so lets just say I’m happy where I am right now and when that changes I will move on.”
Part of Hurst’s future plans include transporting the equipment from the old Rambert Dance Company, which has been modernised and re-housed on London’s South Bank, to Port Elizabeth to start a dance studio there.
“I have the vision of setting up a dance studio or creative base for students and professionals in South Africa. At present I have negotiated the purchase of the old dance floor, some sound equipment and an old ballet barre from the previous studio. It’s all packed into storage and the plan is to arrange a fundraising gala performance to gather some money to transport this equipment, along with dance shoes and clothes to South Africa.
“The project is in its infancy but it has to start somewhere and I hope this recent award will help me to reach out to some influential sponsors who could help make this dream a reality.”