Leilah hip-hopping to stardom
Hip hop national champion Leilah Jankelowitz puts her success down to hard work.
The Grade 10 student at Roedean School in Johannesburg won the 15 to 16 age group in the South African National Hip Hop Championship at the South African State Theatre in Tshwane from 2-3 October 2021.
“It felt unbelievable, as if my hard work had paid off,” says Jankelowitz.
She was invited to the national tournament, organised by the South African Body of Dance, courtesy of achieving a certain percentage in four online and in-person competitions over the past year.
“If you qualified by placing in the top three for all of these competitions, you were given your provincial colours since you were seen as being the best of the best,” the dancer says.
Originally inspired by African dance movements, hip hop dance took off during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It flourished as a new style of street dance, incorporating aspects of modern dance, tap, and swing, integrating music and complex movements to form artistry.
For Jankelowitz, hip hop dance is both a sport and an art because it demands the creativity of art and the discipline and athleticism of sport.
“I’ve always loved dancing,” says Jankelowitz. “I began working with small and basic dance studios until they said that they felt I should move to something more professional as well as more challenging. That’s exactly what happened.”
She practices with other dancers in Pretoria about two or three times a week for about three hours. On her own, she practices twice a week for about an hour.
“When competitions are coming up, we train heavily, and I usually spend seven hours or more in Pretoria on a Saturday. That’s in addition to the training sessions during the week.”
Jankelowitz hoped to compete in the World Hip Hop Championships in Slovenia in November. “I qualified by getting a certain percentage or higher and placing first in the top three at nationals,” she says. Unfortunately, the rise in COVID-19 cases in the Central European country has resulted in the tournament being cancelled.
Jankelowitz could arm herself with Michelle Leigh Openshaw’s four principles for women looking to make a career in hip hop. The first female judge from Africa to sit on the world hip hop international panel, Openshaw’s advice is to fully discover your strengths and weaknesses, believe in yourself, be an apprentice or find a mentor, and remove fear of failure.
Hip hop isn’t the only sport that Jankelowitz excels in. She’s excited to be in South Africa’s netball squad for next year’s Maccabi Games in Israel. “Netball is another one of my passions. I went to multiple trials until I made it to the final round where out of the huge group, they chose nine to 12 girls from Johannesburg and Cape Town and I was among them.”
The Maccabi Games runs in the Jankelowitz family. Both her parents were Maccabeans, with her mom participating in netball and her dad in soccer.
In addition to netball and dancing, she also plays soccer, tennis, and does athletics. “I love going on runs or going to the gym. I really love spending time with my mates and going out with them,” says Jankelowitz.