Keoikantse Motsepe, Burn the Floor
For the last eight years Keoikantse Motsepe (Keo) has reigned supreme as the undefeated South African Latin and Ballroom Dance Champion. Having performed and competed worldwide he is now flaunting his fancy footwork on tour with internationally acclaimed show Burn the Floor. As the first interviewee who has Skyped with me from their car I find the dance champion to be a fascinating character.
A rather dichotomous combination of laid back and fiercely dedicated, Keo’s passion for his craft and upbeat persona really are inspiring. Happily discussing his childhood ambitions, his travels and extremely tight trousers this phenomenal dancer seems intent on setting the west end stage ablaze.
How are you enjoying being on tour with Burn the Floor?
It’s my life right now and it’s a big challenge. I would say Burn the Floor shows different dances in their own style but at the same time doing something different. Firstly Burn the Floor takes you on a journey. It shows you how life is today and how life was before. You see how dancing was in America in the 1980s, and how it came into the 1990s and everything up to now in 2013. Also it shows you emotion. Each dance could be telling a story about forbidden love or committing suicide, so it shows you how Latin and Ballroom dancing can share a deep story between a man and a woman.
My goal every time I do Burn the Floor is to touch one person’s soul. Not because I can split or I can spin but just telling that story is why I dance.
I joined the show last year in January 2012. Obviously it’s difficult at times like you go to China for a week and tomorrow you go to Australia and there’s time changes and everything’s so different. Also I’ve not worked with any of these people before, so yeah, it’s hard but it’s a good challenge.
What’s the furthest away from South Africa you’ve travelled to before?
I’d travelled quite a bit with dance competitions before; I’d been to Blackpool, France, Germany. I think the furthest away from South Africa was Finland. (Pulls a disapproving face)
You don’t look very impressed with Finland!
You know because it was cold! Oh my goodness I never would have believed how cold the world can be! But it was an interesting trip for me; in fact I went twice to compete in the Finnish champs.
The first time in 2008 I made it to the top 36 and the second time in 2009 I went with a different teacher and then I came seventh. It was a goal for me to be in the semi final or final and I achieved it but it takes hard work to do that.
How did you first get into ballroom dancing?
Oh ok, that is a story! (Laughs) I started dancing when I was five years old. I used to watch dancing shows on TV and was like ‘That’s so cool.’ My dad was a professional soccer player in his time and wanted me to follow his footsteps, so I did soccer but it wasn’t for me. So a friend of mine said ‘Dude that is not for you. Come with me.’ This girl had a dance studio in her house, I walked in and I just saw these guys in tight pants, and I thought ‘Maybe not really for me that. Maybe I’ll change the pants.’ But that first day I tried dancing I felt I got my calling. I thought ‘That’s for me.’ So I told my parents; my dad obviously wasn't happy about that. He got used to it when I was like nine or ten. I said to them when I was seven, ‘I think I’m gonna be a dancer’ and they laughed! They laughed! I was like ‘Laugh it’s ok!’ and I even remind them when I’m home, I say ‘Do you remember when I was seven years old and I said this to you?’ And look at me now; I’m with one of the biggest Broadway companies in the world.
You sound like a very insightful pair of five-year-olds!
I was a bit shocked and even nowadays it’s hard for me to believe, did my friend say that to me? I have a brother who has a five-year-old but when I speak to her it’s like I’m talking to a 16-year-old. The way the children of today are reasoning it’s doable that me and my friend were the same.
Burn the Floor
Has there ever been a time when you’ve wanted to do anything else?
Maybe another type of dance... I wanted to do ballet, and I’ve also done contemporary which helped me to be fluent. Contemporary is more about showing your emotions so it helps me when I’m showing a story in dance. Oh, I dreamed of running a massage parlour, with treatments and beauty therapy. (A tad surprised I unwittingly chuckle) I know it’s funny but hey listen; it’s just something I saw myself opening. You know when people massage me I can feel there’s a better way to do it. I massage my sisters and dance partners and they always say it feels great. So that might happen.
You mentioned being inspired by TV dance shows. Can you remember what programmes you watched?
On TV we had something called The Summit. They took the six best couples and from Monday to Saturday they would show one couple a day for two hours. They’d show their journey; how they practice, how they prepare for competition, what they eat, how they work with teachers so that got me interested. So when I started dancing I went full on; I have a passion for it a love for it. In soccer, my mum was complaining that I wasn’t trying but when I started dance my mum said ‘Ah, look at you, you’re very disciplined!’ I’m not a soccer player, man! Even when I kick a ball for fun with my brother and my friends, I kick it with a point! Everything is Latin dance, even the way I walk. The other day when I flew to Cape Town, I was wearing these tight pants and this woman asked me ‘What sport do you do?’ When I said I was a dancer, she goes ‘I knew it! I knew it! Look at your legs! You know what; I’ll take you home any day!’ and this woman was next to her husband. He just laughed, I was thinking ‘Awkward! Awkward!’ I just went, ‘Sorry, I’m missing my flight!’(Laughs)
Is Latin and Ballroom Dance popular in South Africa?
Yeah, it’s a big thing. There are still TV programmes for dancing in South Africa but it’s not as popular as overseas. The media don’t see dance as something that will make money. Soccer and rugby are the strongest sports in South Africa. It’s bigger abroad; overseas life is so fast, man. When I come back home I’m like ‘Wow, are we still teaching dance like this’ so I come back with a mind of how I can help with dance workshops and how we can move with the times. I always have to give back to the community; I take that with me everywhere I go.
The other day when I flew to Cape Town, I was wearing these tight pants and this woman asked me ‘What sport do you do?’ When I said I was a dancer, she goes ‘I knew it! I knew it! Look at your legs! You know what; I’ll take you home any day!’ and this woman was next to her husband. He just laughed, I was thinking ‘Awkward! Awkward!’ I just went, ‘Sorry, I’m missing my flight!’(Laughs)
Which pace of life do you prefer?
In terms of work; Europe. Actually no, everything Europe! (Laughs) I come back to see my family and friends, but I wouldn’t have a family here now. For me, I don’t want to get married to the same culture that I am. I want to learn more about new cultures and new people. Like in the show we have different nationalities and we do things differently, and also that makes us connect and work well together. I just want to experience different sides of the world. I don’t want to come home and my wife is cooking the food that I expected her to cook. I want to come home and be surprised. So different food, different opinions, different language; I want to experience new things and people with different lives.
Obviously you’ve been the world champion for the last eight years. Are you going to compete for the ninth?
You know what for now I’m still young and still experiencing new things and other opportunities. Maybe there’ll be a time when I feel like competing again and will go for it, but for now I’m experiencing a different life with Latin and Ballroom dancing in a show. You never know, someone may say ‘Ah Keo, we want you for Come Dancing’ but you never know how God has planned my life.
Keoikantse Motsepe and Kallyanne Brown in Burn the Floor
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I say to myself I'll be where God wants me to be; it’s in God’s hands. While God gives me the support and the guidance and passion for dancing I’ll still go for it. If there’s a time that he wants me stop this and try something else, I’ll see. But my goal now is dancing all the way. I’m a bit of a weird guy; my goal every time I do Burn the Floor is to touch one person’s soul. Not because I can split or I can spin but just telling that story is why I dance.
What do you feel when you’re on stage?
Happy. I’m a happy soul, I’m a free soul. I understand dancers have this belief ‘Dancing is acting;’ for me dancing is real, so if you see me cry on stage you know that’s real. When I walk on the stage there’s a story behind every dance, so I’ll put myself in a situation from my own life that matches the dance. When I dance people experience who Keo is.
Catch Keoikantse Motsepe in Burn the Floor from 6 March to 1 September 2013