If you want to squash the stereotype that white people can’t dance, you might want to prevent Theresa May from ever appearing in public again.
The British prime minister is doing a disservice to white peeps the world over with her, um, “jigs”, and her recent trip to Africa back in August contained two separate moments fit for ridicule.
That has been relegated to old news, though, in the wake of her appearance at last week’s Tory party conference. Can you be born with two left hips and some T-Rex arms?
Make it stop.
All that aside, we’re actually here to talk about a dance that is popular across South Africa, the pantsula. I’m not going to pretend to know much about it, but the Guardian’s Lyndsey Winship has done her research.
Here’s that intro:
In the beginning, it was all about the shoes. In the early 1950s in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, the pantsulas defied their lean material circumstances by dressing in designer clothing. Influenced by American jazz music, they danced with a quick-stepping style, tapping the floor in a way that wouldn’t ruin their expensive footwear.
Sixty years on, pantsula (both the name of the dance and its surrounding culture) still thrives in townships across South Africa, but its character and style have morphed in line with the lives of the people who cultivated it. Only recently has pantsula broken into the mainstream dance world. You can see it in the show Via Kanana, created by the South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma and dancers from the Katlehong township, playing at Shoreditch Town Hall, east London, as part of Dance Umbrella.
Via Kanana is a mark of pantsula’s increasing mainstream presence on the global stage, and it’s not hard to see why. Maybe while they’re in the UK, they could ask Theresa to come along and give her a few pointers.
Look at this artistry:
Pantsula has also taken on an increasingly political form in recent times, reflecting the concerns of the young people who dance it. Here’s choreographer Gregory Maqoma again:
“It is evolving,” says Maqoma, who believes young people are “more socially aware of their environment and how they can contribute and respond to their circumstances. They’re surrounded by the social imbalances within their townships and they are part of the new post-apartheid struggle.”
Maqoma feels an urgency in the air that is perfectly captured by the relentless attack of pantsula. “It’s young people stepping up and creating a revolution in their own way,” he says. “Responding to what’s going on in the political sphere, in terms of corruption, the complex nature of land rights, the decay in just … humanity. And young people want to hold those in power accountable.”
With that in mind, Maqoma’s latest show focuses on corruption:
“When we created the work we were still under the leadership of probably the most corrupt leader in our country, our ex-president Zuma.” It draws on the lives and concerns of the dancers of Via Katlehong. Maqoma remembers: “One of the guys said: ‘You know, my grandmother still lives in a shack, and I live in a shack, and it’s 24 years after apartheid: what has the fight really been for? Why are things still the same? Why are things worse?’”
I reckon that’s a message that should resonate with many South Africans living in the UK.
Before we go, this is also a pretty interesting look at pantsula, put together back in 2015:
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