Tebogo Kgobokoe. Picture: Instagram

‘I didn’t fall in love with dance, dance fell in love with me,” says undefeated dance champion, Tebogo Kgobokoe.

She is a Latin and ballroom dancing champion, a coach, choreographer, international adjudicator, motivational speaker and owner of Tebogo Kgobokoe Arts Academy, a school she opened to foster talent.

Her most recent achievement includes being selected to judge the first season of Dancing With The Stars South Africa. She joins esteemed judges Bryan Watson, Debbie Turner and Jason Gilkison.

“There was really no initial love for dance,” Kgobokoe says.

“I always wanted to do something besides have my head buried in books. I love books, but I needed more, so I used dance as a form of escapism - I can’t really say why I did it. I have no recollection of precisely when I started.”

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The 10-time champion for SA professional Latin and ballroom dancing and seven-time SA professional Latin-American champion, started as a traditional dancer and moved on to modern jazz when she was 10. 

At 13 she started Latin and ballroom. At 16, she was the youngest in her class to qualify as a coach and adjudicator at a sports hub in the North West.

“The community was lucky to have a sports hub built. Specialists from the UK were brought in to train the adults at the time. But they felt they didn’t need it and so they sent a bunch of kids to train instead. I was the youngest in the group, they found out only when I qualified. I guess I was extremely disciplined and I worked really hard.”

Tebogo Kgobokoe. Picture: Cathy Pinnock

Kgobokoe’s first trip overseas was not to compete as a dancer but as a gymnast. Afterwards, he was told she had what it took to compete in dance competitions and although she came out second in her first dance competition, she knew she could do better.

“They were short of a team and so a couple of us were asked to join. It was an unbelievable journey. There was a time when I spent eight months of the year travelling and for 15 years I never spent Christmas at home, but somehow travelling makes it clear who you are - if you think you’re the best, the world will quickly show you that there is always someone better.”

Kgobokoe says travelling changes one as an adult, making one almost rebellious because one tends to feed off one’s own experiences.

Through competitions, she learnt how to handle criticism.

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“Sometimes criticism can be the guidance you need, and sometimes you just take it in and then let it out. I was young and couldn’t really say much, so hearing it helped me. I always believe that you are only as good as your last win.”

Kgobokoe has the privilege of working with a host of international and local dancing professionals and celebrities.

“It’s always a pleasure and privilege working with these people. It’s also pressured because I know I need to work 10-times harder because I am paving the way for others to follow.

“I don’t take this job lightly. And when I’m working with them, I’m more than just their coach - I’m their mother, personal adviser and friend.”

Tebogo Kgobokoe. Picture: Cathy Pinnock

Aside from coaching professionals, Kgobokoe trains children at her arts academy.

“It’s more than just a school. We don’t only teach dance; it goes beyond that. I’m constantly using dance to change lives. We are very clear about teaching dance that is intelligent. That includes the business of art and learning about the anatomy and how to dance without hurting yourself. They are taught to be versatile because duality is important.

“And although the world constantly evolves, we are real and honest. We do what we say we will. We play a role in shaping their futures and maybe even their destinies.”

Asked if she thought dance was being given enough recognition in the country, she answers in the negative.

“Dancing is a big deal internationally. However, here it is not formalised, which makes it difficult to validate where you are or how much you should be getting paid. There has been talk of validating it but that group tends to give up and refocus on other things.”

Speaking about her role as a judge on Dancing With The Stars, Kgobokoe says she deserves to be on the panel.

“I belong on that panel, I feel that in a way I earned it. And I get to work with the crème de la crème of the lot. I’m so grateful to be on the show and I can’t stop thinking about it. It gives me such a rush”.

A stickler for technique, Kgobokoe is also known as “TTT” which stands for “the technique terrorist” because she believes if you do something, you’ve got to make sure you do it to the best of your ability.

“I know I have the nickname, but it’s just my way of judges panel in Dancing with the Stars SA. Yes, the celebrities are celebrated but they chose to be on the show and dance, so they can’t be flopping around. I can’t allow them to disrespect the art form.

“It’s not easy. It’s mentally and physically gruelling, but I know they can do it and I can’t wait to see how they improve over the weeks.”

Although she has no favourites yet, she can’t wait until eliminations begin.

“Once eliminations start, it’s a whole new ballgame and, as a judge, I have to put my emotions aside and judge according to what they produce on the dance floor.

“They also will form better connections with their dancing pairs and we are in store for a better quality of dancing, higher heels, fabulous outfits, jumps, speeds of dance and other complicated things.”

Aside from being a superwoman in her career, the dancing queen is also a mother of two boys, aged six and 10, and has a partner.

“My boys are 100 times more energetic than I am, but I am constantly learning from them. They are both very expressive and because I work a lot, I also try to balance my time with them as often as I can. We spend most of our weekends in the kitchen baking and trying out new recipes. We don’t ever buy bread or cakes. We prefer baking it - and they love it”.

Kgobokoe enjoys eating all things chicken.

“I love everything chicken. I usually have veggies on the side and dessert is a must. I’m a sucker for malva pudding and custard or sometimes a slice of cake and a cup of tea. At the moment, I can’t get enough of orange cake,” she said.

But even though she enjoys food, she makes sure she exercises regularly.

“I teach dancing everyday. I start very early and finish very late. But on my days off, I rely on my 2kg dumbbells, crunches and leg lifts. I also firmly believe if you look good on the outside you feel good on the inside”

* Catch Tebogo Kgobokoe on Dancing With The Stars SA on M-Net 101 on Sundays at 5pm.