Young dancers in a South African township now have some top-notch footwear thanks to north Leeds grandparents Bob and Doreen Ward and Northern Ballet Academy.
Bob, 72, and Doreen 71, of Chapel Allerton, have just returned from a holiday in Cape Town where they donated 50 pairs of dance shoes to the Zama School of Dance in the Gugulethu township.
The shoes had been donated by students at Northern Ballet’s Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) after a request by the grandparents, whose grandson Max Cookward, 17, was once a pupil there.
Bob, who is a regular visitor to Cape Town, said: “When we went out 18 months ago, we took a pair of shoes from our grandson and got a nice picture of one of the kids receiving them with a beaming smile. So we thought, let’s see if we can get a few more.”
He added: “We had an amazing response. The shoes ranged from really strong tap shoes - excellent pieces of shoe engineering - right through to simple dance shoes for floor exercises or point shoes.
“We were told that the average price would be equivalent to at least one week’s wages in South Africa, so the monetary value of these runs into thousands.
“The school was so utterly delighted to receive them. Lots of the kids at Northern Ballet had also sent lovely letters too.
“It was such a joyous experience.”
Yoko Ichino, ballet mistress and Academy of Northern Ballet associate director, said: “As an Academy, we are delighted to have been able to support fellow dancers by donating ballet, tap and jazz shoes to Zama Dance School. We believe that everybody who wants to dance should have the opportunity to be able to do so, and by providing these shoes we hope that we have been able to enrich the dance education of these young people.”
In a quirky coincidence, after Bob and Doreen had asked Northern Ballet for shoes, it emerged one of the academy’s contemporary dance teachers, Andile Sotiya, had trained at Zama Dance School when he was younger.
Bob said when he and Doreen got to the Zama, the director had found members of Mr Sotiya’s family for them to meet.
“It was amazing,” he said.