SWAGG United Dance Crew in Atlantis is taking children off the street and teaching them dance as a safe alternative to joining a gang.
Founded in 2016 by dancer and choreographer Elsalene Saligee, the crew offers free lessons which focus on a mix of styles from hip-hop, krump and modern jazz, pantsula and GQOM.
“The reason for SWAGG is because I always wanted my own studio so I decided to start a dance group,” said Saligee. Due to a lack of funds to open a studio, Salligee and her husband started helping out kids in their community. “In Atlantis, there is lots of talent and many kids throw their talent away.”
From an original crew of 10 dancers, it has grown to 40 members between the ages of seven and 24. As it has grown, they have split the teams into a junior, middle and senior team. Practices take place outdoors in a yard in Atlantis that allow for better accessibility, allowing any child who is interested to join. It also acts as an attraction to those who see the crew practicing and decide they want to join.
The teams perform across the Western Cape, having collected over 18 trophies and many certificates at multiple competitions. “We’ve won lots of competitions in Riebeck Kasteel, Piketberg, Porterville, Darling and Ravensmead,” said Saligee. “Every year we dance in De Doorns, they hire us to dance at their modelling show Miss De Doorns.”
SWAGG is well-known in the Atlantis community, with Salligee explaining how the dancers are known by others in the community and are often asked to perform at events. “We help in the community where we can, we even work with women and child abuse,” said Saligee.
As they are trying to encourage children from mostly poor families to join, the lessons and performances are free. They are thus reliant on some donations from the public and assistance to get to competitions and shows.
Currently, Saligee said they are most in need of a place to practice that isn’t as exposed as the yard. “Sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it’s so hot, I feel for the kids they burning in the sun,” she said.
In addition, they are trying to raise funds for a minibus which would make it easier to shuttle kids to performances. At the moment they are relying on the kindness of others to give them lifts but with the group growing this requires more transport.
If you would like to contribute and help the group raise funds to achieve these goals, they have a crowdfunding campaign which you can donate to.