Rising above controversial opinions and the rhino horn trade argument Sheila Bath Upton changes hearts and makes a difference for African wildlife.
“Tell me when you’ll be here and I can make some arrangements for you”
A couple of weeks later an itinerary with people to meet, recommended dates and travel times shows up in my inbox, not only that, included are personally accompanied meetings and adventures. All this gratis for our Africa Wildlife Tour 2014.
Sheila Bath Upton, founder of Dance to be Wild is a skillful connector and orchestrator, and even more importantly she loves people… almost as much as wildlife. Sheila, like many of us wildlife lovers, is not exceptionally wealthy or influential. Like many of us she had to apply the old… START where you are, USE what you have, and DO what you can… principal.
With a successful ballroom dance studio, international connections and a knack for bringing people together Sheila began introducing snippets of awareness about the rhino crisis where ever she could. Then she conceived and launched the, now biggest, annual dance competition in South Africa to raise funds and awareness to stop the rhino poaching.
If that wasn’t enough she felt that through dance she could bring confidence and understanding to less privileged children and youth in the townships. So collaborating with other dance instructors and local community leaders she put her notion to the test.
We’d barely made it to Johannesburg after being stranded in the Waterburg by heavy rains when we were whisked off to Orange Farm to see some children dancing. Were we in for a surprise! (Watch video/Photo below)
Arriving more than an hour late the community center was still full of parents and children. The dancers lined up in a celebratory fashion to welcome their guests, us. Sheila hugged her way in as children greeted her warmly with big smiles. (Photos below)
Once seated at the honorary table and a brief welcome speech the music begins and two young dancers move, step and twist with amazing precision and grace. Couple after young couple dazzle us with their joy of dance and exact execution. (Photo below) One student, looking much younger than his twelve years, is a national champion… we experience why.
Rising above political opinion, the rhino horn trade argument and other conflicts in the wildlife conservation world, Sheila builds bridges and brings people together.
Dance to be Wild hosts an annual three day competition. This year with 500 dancers participating. All judged by an elite group of international adjudicators including renowned ballroom dance instructor Klaus Kongsdal from Denmark. Mixed in with the dancing are video clips (by One More Generation), brief talks (one by yours truly) candle of hope lighting ceremony, and the appearance of a rhino… actually Chris Daniel from Bongi’s Quest in costume to hand out complimentary copies of his children’s book (about a young rhino trying to understand why poachers killed his uncle.)
With her sights set on opening the competition to the international dance community, especially Asia, Sheila dreams of touching hearts to end the poaching. Did you know that classical dance is very fashionable in Hong Kong with many new rich participating! The very same demographic who reportedly consume and buy rhino horn products!
After watching Sheila at work, I know that if someone can make things happen she can… by loving others, getting them involved and mobilized.