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Woke queen. Mother. Award-winning scholar. Thabile Buthelezi is many things, but first, she’s a dancer. Throughout her life, movement has been an intrinsic part of Buthelezi’s identity and her Zulu heritage.

“We dance when we’re happy, we dance when we’re sad,” she says. “We dance when we want to change.”

After Buthelezi fell pregnant in matric [the final year of high school], judgement followed. Rather than internalising the shame that others imposed, Buthelezi remembered the confidence that dance instilled in her.

Today, she’s choreographing a life that she’s proud of. 

After her son was born, Buthelezi went on to study ethnomusicology while still performing as a dancer.

In 2015, her talent earned her the opportunity of a lifetime when she became the first South African to receive the prestigious Choreomundus scholarship. 

Buthelezi later graduated with a Master’s in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage in London. “Drawing from my cultural heritage equipped me with the skills that I needed,” Buthelezi says. 

She has since returned home to KwaMashu, in Durban, where she guides others who may be stumbling through similar pressures to those Buthelezi faced as a teenager. 

With the Thabile Buthelezi Foundation, she’s changing the narrative of what success looks like.

Alongside dance lessons, Buthelezi offers career guidance and mentorship to people in her community. 

The diverse troupe of woke queens and kings, as Buthelezi calls them, blossom under her tutelage. Her purpose is to empower her peers to be the best version of themselves, regardless of the obstacles they face.

“I want to give them hope that they are invincible,” Buthelezi says. Together, they are dancing off the weight of the world. To go forward in life, you first have to move.


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