Islington dancer recounts apartheid struggles in new book

Mark Esau holding his new book, How Dance Saved My Life: Against Adversity

Mark Esau’s book, How Dance Saved My Life: Against Adversity - Credit: Dominic Cole

An Islington dancer has published the story of his journey from apartheid Johannesburg to London.

Mark Esau’s book, How Dance Saved My Life: Against Adversity, recounts his childhood struggles with abuse and trauma and how he overcame them through ballroom dancing, which took him to London’s Pineapple Dance Studios.

“I wrote the book as a healing process to get through the trauma of my childhood,” said Mark. “And I also wrote the book for other children or other people who have been through the same thing as me. To let them know that they’re not alone.”

Attending high school under apartheid made things harder still: “We were always running away from the police [and] trying to get to school without being arrested."

But he says a ballroom dancing teacher gave him a sense of belonging and the confidence to forge a professional career, often auditioning for jobs as the only non-white dancer.


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After landing a role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, he went on to perform at Sun City, a luxury resort and casino in Rustenburg, South Africa, and at Miss World.

He left for London in 1996 and attended classes at Pineapple Studios, and it was there he had a chance encounter in the cafeteria which led to him boarding a plane to Miami to dance on cruise ships 24 hours later.

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Mark now teaches ballroom dancing for Islington's The Stuart Low Trust, a charity supporting those experiencing social isolation and mental distress.

“I’m not trying to make them dancers, that’s not my aim. My aim is to give them a sense of fun,” he said. “That is one of my strengths, I can teach anyone to dance. People say, ‘oh no, I can’t dance,’ and I’ll make it my duty to work with those people.”

The inspiring book, which took a decade to write, follows Mark's life up to his arrival in the UK in 1996.

“I don’t know where I get this courage to go and do anything,” he said. “I want to give people the sense that you have to learn to fight.”

Mark is already starting work on the sequel, which will chart his life in London from 1996 up to the present. He hopes it won’t take another ten years to finish.

How Dance Saved My Life: Against Adversity is available from Amazon as an e-book.

READ MORE: Book delving into Islington's rich history republished

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