Streatham dance instructor aged 83 to help fund riel documentary


Elsa Perez has been dancing for longer than she can remember.

The 83-year-old dance instructor is raising money to return to South Africa where she was born to film a documentary about young dancers there. The film, Elsa and the Riel Dancers, will follow the Streatham resident as she and a group of riel dancing schoolchildren share their stories of hardship growing up in Cape Town.

Riel dancing is an ancient dance form from the Khoi San indigenous people of Southern Africa.

Elsa Perez, performing in a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration

Dance gave Elsa the chance to express herself in 1950s South Africa, where she was marginalised because of the colour of her skin.

She said: “Dance is a universal language and it breaks down barriers. We have people from all nations in my classes. We meet and understand each other.

“It promotes tolerance but also gives people a healthy pride in their culture.

“We learn from each other that way to. It broadens the mind to other types of music, culture and dance.”

Riel dancing is normally performed as a ceremonial dance around an open fire.

The steps are fast and the performers kick up sand as they dance. The children in Cape Town will teach Elsa riel dances for the film. She said: “The riel dancing will be quite a challenge for me, because these kids are really fast on their feet.

“But I keep myself very fit so I’m confident I can do it.”

Once a month Elsa teaches senior South Africans at homes across South London and she has a taster session open to all on April 27 in Immanuel Church Hall near Streatham Common.

She said: “People always ask me, ‘what is the secret?’

“It’s simple, be active and try as hard as you can.

“I feel satisfied when I’m teaching and I really feel joy when I dance.

“A lot of older people have physical problems, but I think no matter what, you can still be active.

“I even do chair dancing. It’s amazing the things you can do in a chair.

“It’s all about exercise, eating healthily and meeting people. Loneliness is a killer.”

Elsa is being supported by her friend, Moira Rowan. The pair are hoping to raise £2,000 to fund the film. They have set up a crowdfunding page and Moira is auctioning paintings at St George’s Hospital for the cause.

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