Weighing 25kg and barely 113cm tall, Von Memerty, son of entertainer and co-host of SA’s Got Talent, Ian von Memerty, is not your average 18-year-old.
Besides his rare condition, Maroteaux Lamy Syndrome, which is characterised by dwarfism among other symptoms, Von Memerty is a talented hip hop dancer and motivational speaker. A member of Zinto, a brand activation and entertainment company, this kid’s got “swag”.
Using his accomplishments and nifty self-taught dance moves to inspire and motivate others, Von Memerty travels to schools around the country demonstrating the triumph that comes with positive thinking.
“I speak to kids through music and dance, because that’s what they understand,” says Von Memerty. “It’s a teenager speaking to a teenager and showing them that you cannot judge a book by its cover.
With a passion for dance and a talent to match, Von Memerty is not your conventional hip hop dancer. “I sometimes use ‘yo dawg’ or ‘word’ when talking to the guys but I’m not going to use that type of speak with my father.
“I want to show people that hip hop isn’t about gangs, drugs and guns. It’s about expressing yourself in a positive manner and dance is a great outlet to do that.”
Reflecting on his childhood, Von Memerty recalls being victimised by bullies in his early years, but through a loving and supportive family, it wasn’t long before he showed them who was boss.
“Because I was different the kids could always sense that,” he says. “I was insecure because I was too young to understand why I was different and that made me an easy target. I wanted to be able to climb the jungle gyms and play roughly just like all the other kids.
“My dad explained to me why I am what I am and why I would never be tall and I started to accept that fact. Being comfortable with who you are, is a key factor in a person’s success.
“My family never treated me any differently and they expected me to get on like any other. They do tease me about my height, which made me comfortable with who I am. If people tell me I’m short, I’m like, ‘And your point is? You’ve just pointed out a very obvious thing. I am short, deal with it’. For me, my childhood was just like any other, I just had to visit the hospital more than most.”
Overcoming many obstacles due to his disability, Von Memerty laughs at doctors’ doubt about his survival. Today he is dancing proof, having survived two bone marrow transplants and a 10 minute heart stoppage. “I’m small; I work twice as much when dancing as your average person and I burn up energy quite quickly,” Von Memerty explains. “Even things like walking if the average person takes one step, I’m taking three. So I do get tired and run down, and I do take my naps. But because I have this disability it proves that I can overcome anything as long as my mind is strong.”
Dance inspired Von Memerty to make the most of what he’d been given and now he’s taking that message to the rest of the world.