Pulsing beats fill the space in a large well designed room. Practising dancers move to the tempo as Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts leads each move with her clear distinct voice. As I follow the instructions — though I am dismal at the dance — Tarryn’s kindness is an energetic force and at Nike’s training facility in Soweto named Shapa Soweto.
There is an apparent transformative feeling of uneasiness turning into determination and nerves into fun.
After the dance class, I take the time to explore the grounds of Shapa Soweto and I am filled with admiration for how many people are contributing to something so special. Something that gives an opportunity for young and athletically talented children to let the steam off in a professionally designed and operated training facility.
From soccer, skateboarding, yoga and dance, the opportunities to engage in multiple sports are limitless — and it is free to register and become a member. While walking back to the dance studios, I have a good idea of the conversation I’d like to have with Tarryn.
Tarryn Alberts is a well known South African professional dancer. She has gone on tour with Die Antwoord and has developed her own relationship with Nike. Over the last couple of months post the inception of the COVID—19 pandemic, she has been the dance coach for the dance classes at Shapa Soweto.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: What is the driving force that led you to Shapa Soweto and how does it align with your own personal and career ideologies?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: At Shapa, we are the incubator for young athletes. Grooming them for the next level of their lives, going pro and I think with ‘So Dope’ — my dance academy business that I started five years ago — that was our vision and aim. So that young dancers are ready when they do turn pro and they know how to work, so they don’t feel lost or feel that they do not know what to do.
When I was younger, I didn’t know that you would have to dance in heels professionally and I got through it with some injuries. No one warned me about that so I wanted to be the person who could warn and train young dancers to know what is expected of them. That you can make money and you can make this a career.
Thank you to Shapa for having us in this space and for me to facilitate the dance studio. Our morals and our values are aligned. They care about the youth and so do I. That is how the communion came about.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: You went from starting your own academy ‘So Dope Dance Academy’ to being the leading force of the ‘Dance Now’ dance class, what informed this transition and how is it going to be different for you and for the community who is going to attend the dance classes?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: Shapa hosts us. So there is no difference really, we have made it one thing. I’ve had a long relationship with Nike. I am a Nike brand enthusiast — our relationship is so tight and people knew that I was here for the youth. My dancers coming from a broken down stadium with one electric plug which is fine cause you can dance anywhere to these kinds of dance facilities are on another level. It makes the dancers feel like they can be professional dancers and that is the feeling we want to give people.
There are mats here, there’s gym equipment, the mirrors and the floors, and there’s a shower facility here. People don’t even have that at home. We really wanted to open up the space and make people feel like the dreams that they are chasing can be a real thing.
That’s how it feels when you are a pro so when the kids are ready to be in the professional space, they are able to meet others there — they don’t have to climb up in that way.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: You mentioned that you believe in “staying true to yourself and style” and that dance has transcended into a more spiritual practice for you, how would you advise a young dancer to feel in line with who they are at the core and the path that they are carving out for themselves?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: Even when I was on tour and travelling the world, I’d always go back home. That is the thing about dance, always come back home — come back to the roots.
My roots are krumping and waacking and voguieng. Those are my love styles. Whenever I am down, I do those dances and it becomes a form of prayer for me and a form of upliftment.
I believe that being rooted means you are grounded. Once the foundation is set, nothing in life will get you down. Same with dancing, you will be able to do everything and anything. At a dance competition, they cannot deny you.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: Why did NIKE’s global backing of visionary women resonate with you and how do you carry that in your continuous journey with dance?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: Wow, that is powerful. The fact of the matter is our entire centre is filled with women. All the coaches are women. That inspired me too. People said ‘the future is female’ and people thought we were making jokes when we said that the divine feminine is now. That is us. We are here to inspire more women in the space. Like Shanay does with skateboarding.
In hip hop dance, it has been male dominated but my dancing adds a female aspect and inspires other women to take up space. At Nike, we have a track record of women. Instead of just speaking about it, we need to make it happen. That’s what we are doing here at Shapa. Giving young women an opportunity to liberate themselves in the space.
I know that it could be a bit intimidating for some of our males but I feel like our students enjoy it. They like engaging with our coaches.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: Is there a particular moment that stands out from your childhood that ties in with who you have become within your profession and how has that merged with your approach to dance?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: Definitely the Nike moment. The Sofia Boutella moment. I really wanted to be like her. I was sixteen years old. When I saw her I was like “Damn! There’s a space, she opened it.”
Getting into dance for me was soft dancing, ballerina and it was about the nutcracker then it changed. Growing up watching Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. There’s them and there’s me. How do I get there? Through discipline and determination, you will get there.
There are also my dance teachers. These women were my dance teachers at nine or ten years old. I used to go to the market theatre every Saturday and take a class there. Those moments were key for me because those were the people I wanted to be like.
My dance crew Vintage and I were on a tv show called Step Up or Step Out. Most of the guys were gay and obviously, we are allies to them and we wanted to change the game so badly. We were like those art galleries on stage. Radical. Fierce. “Those damn bitches”. That inspired me to be where I am today. That crew was like my family at the time, we were the dreamers and believers.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: In your interview with Bubblegum Club a few years ago, you mentioned that choosing a career that is based in the creative space was a conflicting decision.
Now that you are recognised as a cultural icon in dance, how would you advise young South African dancers to move forward in this field that they are truly passionate about despite societal critique and other factors that demotivate from the creative field?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: My advice would be to really lose the “I give a fuck” attitude about what others think. Your work is not for others, it is for you. There are possibly over a thousand people who would love your craft. People focus on one negative comment over twenty positive comments.
To young people who want to take up creative, dance or sports professional, do the damn thing and go go go even when you feel like you can’t go anymore. You will get to the top.
Nkamoheleng Moshoeshoe: Is there something that is TNT specific to the way you teach others to dance in comparison to the stereotypical model of teaching dance choreography?
Tarryn ‘TNT’ Alberts: My nickname is TNT and I used to go by ‘Boom Boom’ when I was on tour because my teaching style is dynamic. I make fun of my students so they can laugh and relax. When I make fun of people in the class, they find it easier to learn the dance instead of being tensed up and not knowing what to do.
Visit the official Shapa Soweto website here: https://www.shapasoweto.co.za/
Visit Shapa Soweto at this location: M68 Klipspruit Soweto Gauteng 1837, M68, Klipspruit, Soweto, 1837