Ricardo Koopman grew up in Hout Bay and despite the odds – and there have been many – he fought for his dream to become a dancer.
The kid who walked from his Hout Bay home to the city centre for his classes and auditions, went on to dance his way onto the Artscape and Baxter stages and into some big-name productions, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Merry Widow, and Phantom of the Opera.
Ricardo is now a qualified modern dance teacher in contemporary and creative movement.
For many years, he taught for free in Hout Bay, in search of raw talent, but with no financial backing it wasn’t easy.
“I have to receive a salary or a sponsorship to pay my salary to continue the passionate work I have done and still have in mind for the willing and youth and young children.”
But he still holds onto the belief that dance can change lives, by encouraging vulnerable young people to be the best they can be so they can give back to their community whether as doctors, lawyers, models, dancers, teachers, engineers or even businessmen or women.
He believes he knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be young and misunderstood or bullied for being different – as a 6-year-old boy with a passion for classical ballet he didn’t have things easy growing up. And it only got harder as he got older.
“I was being called all derogatory names. I was even stopped by policemen and asked why I was dressed in my stylish fashionable funky clothes, and sometimes, just because I had a little different shine, I was taken to the police station, as they didn’t like what I was wearing and where I was walking.
“I was also chucked in a jail cell for one day for wearing a satin suit. My own brothers gave me a hard time too.
“My school teachers even frowned upon me for being a dancer.”
But he says he kept on believing in himself and started his own classes, drawing attention from youth on the street.
“I gathered hundreds of kids that came off the street away from drugs and alcohol and fighting to come to my dance school,” he says.
Later, he met an actress, Pippa Duffy, whom he describes as his “true inspiration” for welcoming him into her drama class. He went on to start his own dance drama school, producing shows such as Grease and West Side Story.
“I was being abused in many ways, but boy I never gave up dancing. I really had to fight my way to my own understanding of success.”
In 2003, he completed a modern dance course in New York before travelling abroad to Europe to keep up with the latest teaching methods, dance moves and standards to pass onto his students.
He has appeared in a number of programmes and choreographed a range of children’s musicals and stories.
For several years now, Ricardo has been running Ricardo’s Modern Dance Studio at the Ellerton Primary School in Sea Point and visiting Hout Bay to teach up-and-coming dancers.
His vision is now to make a full return to Hout Bay, but he says he needs support from the public to keep his lessons afloat.
“I so badly want to give back even more, especially to the area where I was born and raised, but it’s really tough and I need to be supported through this financially. I would love to help everybody, but in order for me to do that, I need the support.”
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