SA professional dancer Otlile ‘Oti’ Mabuse, 28, on changing careers, being a global citizen, and starring in Strictly Come Dancing UK…
It’s no surprise that I fell in love with dancing. My mother transformed her day care facility in Mabopane, Tshwane, into a dancing studio for my two sisters. She wanted them to keep busy after school with something positive. They’re 10 years older than me, and as a four year old, I would watch every move, desperate to dance like them. Eventually when I started mimicking their performances close to perfection, I was allowed to dance competitively.
My original career goal was to be an engineer, not a dancer. After I completed my civil engineering degree in 2008 at Tshwane University of Technology, I was offered a great in-service training opportunity. I had to choose between being an engineer or a dancer, and chose the former. But I felt unfulfilled at work, and, with my mother’s support, I decided to quit my training and go to Germany to stay with my sister, Motsi Mabuse, who’s a professional ballroom dancer.
Making that move was one of the best decisions of my life. I hadn’t stopped dancing – in fact, I’d won the SA Latin American champion title eight times – and I also ended up competing in Germany. I became a vice-European and German ballroom champion, and I was ranked third in the world in Latin American dance. What’s more, my dance partner, Marius, became my husband!
Being kind to a stranger landed me a spot on a major TV show.
I helped a man place an order at a café in Nuremberg, because he couldn’t speak any German. The next day I performed on Strictly Come Dancing Germany, and the same man was in the front row. After the show, he came up to me and introduced himself as a producer from the BBC, and invited me to audition for the UK Strictly show, which is screened all over the world.
Being kind to a stranger landed me a spot on a major TV show!
Although so much has changed for me, South Africa will always be home. I live in Nuremberg, but because of my work commitments I’m now based predominantly in London, and I’m married to a Romanian – I’d like to think of myself as a global citizen.
I never tire of the dance routines as no season of Strictly is the same. This season I’m really excited to have a fellow SA dancer, Johannes Radebe, on the show with me. Together we can have fun adding an African twist to some of the routines.
✱ Watch Oti on Strictly Come Dancing UK Season 16 on BBC Brit, DS tv Channel 120, Sundays at 6pm.
Samba was the first African- inspired dance on S trictly UK