Owen King uses dance to bring alive children’s dreams

Local Hero pursues his passion with Mdantsane teens

Local Hero nominee Owen King, 33, has been running the Fantastic Dance Crew at the Mdantsane Art Centre, teaching children and young adults the joys of pantsula.
INSPIRING: Local Hero nominee Owen King, 33, has been running the Fantastic Dance Crew at the Mdantsane Art Centre, teaching children and young adults the joys of pantsula.

Local Hero nominee Owen King loves dance “big-time”.

This emanates through his Fantastic Dance Crew and young children and teens from Mdantsane who spend their afternoons learning pantsula, kwassa kwassa and contemporary dance at the Mdantsane Arts Centre. 

A dancer and choreographer, King, 32, has mentored hundreds of adolescents since 2014 to find their path, stay away from substance abuse and express their creativity.

Even when their parents ban them from attending. 

King said: “I don’t do this because I want people to feel like I’m a hero, I do this because I love it. I see the mentality of the society we live in; it’s broken. 

“I want to bring hope to these kids. To inspire them to do better because there is a stigma here when you are living in Mdantsane where you can’t be someone, you can’t have this job or drive this car.

“I want to build a different mentality in these kids so they know that you can’t live by someone else’s opinion.” 

King worked with pantsula choreographer Jabulani Dube from 2011 until his death in 2015, performing across the country with his Happy Youth Dance Company. 

“We saw another level of pantsula dance; we wanted to follow and be taught by him,” he said.

“He was the one pulling opportunities and connections outside East London and the Eastern Cape. We were broken.

“This is when I started to focus more on Fantastic Dance Crew. I always wanted to learn more and as we travelled, I was seeing and learning other dance styles. 

“I wanted the kids I’m teaching to be flexible and versatile. It was almost a continuation of what Jabulani started, in his honour.” 

Classes grew to more than 60 children in a hall, but have shrunk to a handful of dedicated and talented few. 

Despite this King has free rehearsals for two hours in the afternoons from Monday to Friday and a four-hour session on Saturdays, where he provides lunch and a cooldrink. 

“Some parents think dance is a distraction. Some punish their kids by banning them from attending.

“If a kid hasn’t done chores, because parents know they love dance, or if a kid doesn’t do what a parent says they go ‘no, you won’t go to dance’.That’s the culture here.” 

King makes it a priority to visit the homes of his dancers to sit down with their guardians and explain the benefits of the craft. 

“I make sure now that I talk to the parents, those who are interested.”

Teenage pregnancy and substance abuse are also major reasons children drop out, especially about the age of 16.  

When they started getting to that age, it became so tough. There’s drinking alcohol and doing substances.

“My method now is to make sure I challenge their way of thinking, to change their mindset.

“We have sessions where we sit and talk about life and their dreams. I give them assignments to research what they need to do to become themselves.

“If they want to become a doctor, do your research like ‘OK now you are in grade 11 and you want to go to varsity; how many years will you be there until you reach your goal?” 

Most of the children come from impoverished, broken homes and have had to survive the trauma of substance abuse, gender-based violence and peer pressure to do drugs. 

“It’s heavy. It’s one of the big challenges I have. When a kid comes to me and opens up about their parent abusing substances or alcohol, or is abusive at home.

“Sometimes I even feel like I don’t know what to do. But I go to social workers and try to find someone to come, even on Fridays to talk to the kids because I don’t think I’m fit for that position, but I try my best.” 

There is a strict no drugs, no drinking policy in the crew. 

“We don’t accept that, no drugs, no alcohol. They know, even the older ones, they know.” 

The crew has no official sponsor. King uses his own money to purchase costumes and food for rehearsals. The rest they supplement from local gigs. 

“I have to buy costumes for them to wear. It would be magnificent if we could get shirts or sneakers.

“Everyone comes from different backgrounds. Some kids come wearing nice takkies and others have flip-flops because they don’t own takkies. I have stepped in and bought takkies for kids.” 

The crew has had amazing success. They danced in singer Lindo Mtangayi’s music video for USiyareli Akaqedwa in 2023, which has 749,000 views on YouTube to date. 

“I can’t stop doing this,” King said. “They would be broken big-time. I always preach, if you start something you have to finish it.” 



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