Oti Mabuse has recalled how her mother created her own dance school in their home town in South Africa to provide her daughters with opportunities that she did not have growing up.
The 31-year-old dancer went on to have a successful career, winning the South African Latin American championships eight times and is one of the most successful professionals to have appeared on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing – having won twice.
Her older sister Phemelo also pursued dance as a child while the eldest Mabuse sibling, Motsi, went on to be a professional ballroom dancer and currently sits on the judging panel of Strictly.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Mabuse explained how her mother Dudu loved ballroom dancing but as she grew up under apartheid in South Africa she did not have the chance to learn.
She said: “The opportunities weren’t there for them, they were no dance schools, they were no dance teachers. It was very segregated as well.
“And she always loved it, she always wanted to do it, she always wanted to wear those big ballroom dresses and have her hair done.
“But also in those years, black people weren’t allowed to even be in the same room or the same dancefloor as white people.”
She recalled how her mother was motivated to start her own dance school as “no one teaching black kids how to dance” where they lived at the time.
Mabuse noted that this was a few years before she was born at a time when Nelson Mandela was still in jail and there was “still a lot of segregation”.
The dancer added that the community they grew up in was “really dangerous” due to riots so her mother also started her own transport system to bring children to and from the school so they would be safe.
Growing up in this environment, Mabuse explained that dance was “all she saw” but that her mother kept a very strict regime for her children which only included school, sports and dance.
Mabuse added: “She just didn’t want us to grow up and feel like we didn’t have opportunities and she wanted to make sure that we were always busy so that we wouldn’t have been on the streets, we weren’t getting up to any mischief.”
Among the dancer’s desert island disc choices was the track A Song For Mama by Boyz 2 Men as she said it reminds her of how lucky she is to have her mother who she described as “amazing” and “determined”.
“She always fought for us and she taught us to fight for ourselves and not take no for an answer and be as ambitious and dedicated and competitive as we are”, she added.
Mabuse said that she got her competitive streak from her father who worked as a lawyer and would assist those who could not afford to pay for representation when wrongly arrested.
This determined nature has helped her win the coveted Strictly Come Dancing glitterball on two occasions, first in 2019 with the actor Kelvin Fletcher and then in 2020 with the comedian Bill Bailey.
She admitted that she “absolutely did not” think she would win with Bailey when they first set out on the dancefloor but said that is part of the Strictly “magic” that anything is possible.
Mabuse announced last month that she was departing the show after featuring as a professional for seven years.
The dancer currently sits on the Dancing On Ice judging panel and recently announced she is embarking on her first ever UK tour to perform her stage show I Am Here.
Starting in April, she will give more than 50 performances at venues around the country in a show that celebrates her journey from her home of South Africa to professional dancer.
– Desert Island Discs airs on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11am.