Written by Gontse Seakamela

The whole world has been affected by the pandemic that we now refuse to name. This pandemic has proven catastrophic globally. However, the resilience of the human spirit has proven amazing and has time times like these triumphed over it all.  One such spirit is Tebogo Mashilo, a professional dancer and a previous cabin crew member at one of our local carriers.  Tebogo has a jaw-dropping dance record that will live beyond our years. Just as with many industries, the dance world was also impacted negatively, with restrictive protocols that almost collapsed this industry in South Africa.  It was during this time that Tebogo, like many others, found unexpected and more profound gifts that came with this misfortune. Fatherhood, family, virtual dancing, homemaking,  DIY, and inner peace top of the list of Tebogo’s silver lining and what he strongly believes will form the basis of a successful 2021 for him.  Tebogo also highlighted the gratitude he now has for our frontline people, our essential workers who have kept us all safe and kept what’s left of our economy going.

Exit sat down with this incomparable dance maestro himself and here are the questions we asked Tebogo:

EXIT – Firstly, please tell us your names and also your pronouns?
TM: Tebogo Mashilo (he/him)

EXIT – Tell us which industry and/or professional work are you involved in? TM: I was in the aviation industry, working as a cabin crew member and as an organisational development officer in Human Capital (HR).

EXIT – Please share the circumstances that led to you losing your job.
TM: Despite having amazing colleagues and a great work-culture, unfortunately, the company I worked for was going through financial difficulties from years of mismanagement and corruption which led us to be grounded under business rescue and provisional liquidation, and to add salt to the wound, the pandemic only exacerbated the situation to where we found ourselves in.

EXIT – You are also a dancer right? What kind of dance are you into? When did you start dancing?
TM: Yasss, I am a dancer. I am trained in ballroom and Latin American dance and I competed locally and internationally as an amateur and now professional (turned pro in 2019). A lot of times people are shocked when they find out that I only started late in my adult life, thus I have 7+ years in the field.
However, I have been a tennis player before in my junior years representing my country which on its own required a lot of discipline, hard work, and sacrifices.  So having being exposed to that kind of training from a young age, I knew what I needed to do when I started dancing, which is simply a lot of discipline, a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices, and the belief that I can and will be an amazing dancer.

EXIT – What are the accolades you obtained from dancing so far?
TM: I have won numerous competitions throughout my dance career which I will forever cherish but there are those ones that stand out for me (like grand slams in tennis)
Roma Cup Professional Finalist (Italy)
South African dance champion
Rumba in the jungle championship
SADF Super Series Champion
Fred Astaire Paris Championship quarter-finalists
Partnering up with actress Zola Nombona on Mnet’s dance reality TV show Dancing With the Stars South Africa was the highlight of my career. We made it to the finals and even though we were 1st runner-up, we gave it our all.  As much as there were differences between reality TV and competitive dancing, there were many similarities. For instance, when you dance live to the audience there are no second takes, what you offer at that moment is what’s going to be judged. You are as good as your last dance. Dealing with anxiety and the stress that comes with the competition and the show, and supporting each other as partners when the other is not feeling great is all part of the drill. I am incredibly proud of Zola for trusting me in being her partner and coach at the same time – she is a real gem and an amazing thespian.  The amount of work that came with making a live TV show was an eye-opener for me. From behind the scenes, the technical crew, make-up artist, stylist, producers, judges, and fellow professionals and celebrities, everyone worked hard and tirelessly to create a magical show that got people glued to their screens every Sunday @ 5pm. I must say I loved it and I miss it.  The exposure to such an incredible show also came with opportunities ranging from being invited by the Western Province Dance Association to dance at their “Showcase of Dance” held at Artscape to coaching at my dance club, and now virtual dance coaching.EXIT – We also know that you are a parent- how is parenthood treating you?
TM: Omg!!! What an incredible gift it is to become a parent. I love being a father to my amazing and beautiful son, a future leader in the making. My partner and I are very blessed to have him and this pandemic has afforded us the time to be with each other and see our son every minute of the day.EXIT- Has covid19 had any impact on your dancing? How so? And what have you done to adjust and keep going?
TM: Everyone in the arts can attest that COVID-19 hit us hard in every shape or form. In my case and many others, from having work to nothing at all. Dancing and showcases were also shut down. The persistent difficulties finding work in an already struggling economy and just like a domino, everyone from every different sector was affected. However, I must say to continue working one had to adjust, get creative, and for me, I started teaching my students at UJ privately under strict health protocols, the sanitiser smell became our fragrance…lol, and virtually while we were on lockdown.

The virtual world has unlocked amazing opportunities for most of us.

EXIT – How has Covid-19 changed your life? Any routine change?
TM: One positive that came out of this pandemic and the lockdown is to have time to reset. To have a moment to pause, reflect, and do things differently.  I feel at times I was on auto-pilot with been busy with everything. I value my family time even more than before. I also choose what I put my energies into and what not…I am more in tune with myself and my surroundings.

EXIT: while you have already shared some positive views, what has been the overall silver lining in all of this?
TM: The silver lining in all of this is that the pandemic pushed me to be willing to take risks.  It is very easy to rely on the security of having a salary every month which is a sensible thing for most to do, but it can be detrimental and inhibiting to exploring other income-generating avenues.   The worst part is that, like most, I had put on hold my true passion, dancing. It is easier said than done of course but it’s not impossible and this time has made me aware of this fact and my immense capabilities.  My family has been the greatest support system throughout the lockdown. My partner has been my superhero and the joy of seeing my son smile the moment he sees me has been priceless. I have learned to appreciate the little things in life and I am now set for greater heights with my newfound outlook on life. Overall, I am now taking it one step at a time but I am a happier me.

EXIT: Anything else that you wish to share that made your life so much better by covid19?
TM: Having to connect with people that really matter to me has made my life so much better.  Despite the difficulties, I am still here. I do have a purpose.  A purpose of being a good father to my son, a better spouse, a dancer, a good teacher, a good student, and a good friend. I have a purpose to be kind and try and show kindness to everyone. I must say, I have also learned to commercialize my craft while having fun with it. I am growing my sphere of dancing and the business side of dancing is unravelling for me.

I also wish to thank our frontline workers, from health care to the police who have risked their lives during this time to make sure we remain safe and the country keeps moving forward. Seeing these people risk their lives daily has inspired me immensely.

Tebogo is such a gem to our community.
Exit cannot wait to see Tebogo on the dance floors across the globe in the new distant and healthy future…!

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