PANTSULA dancers are taking their township lifestyles dance to the National Arts Festival with five shows. Pantsula has evolved over decades to become synonymous with township culture and lifestyle. Pantsula dance was born in the townships of the 1970s. The name is believed to have been taken from a traditional Tsonga dance style.
In the politically turbulent 1980s, it came to represent the dance and dress of the township. With the rise of township gangs, Pantsulas came to be slick, well-dressed and dangerous young men. As the genre becomes middle-aged, it remains relevant as it reinvents itself.
Jabulani Dube, choreographer of Pantsula 4 Life, is adamant that the style evolved as migrant labourers experimented with dances such as gumboot dancing and the jazz dances of Kofifi, the old Sophiatown.
“It evolved from gumboot and marabi dancing,” says Dube, as he demonstrates how the marabi dance of the 1950s, similar to the jitterbug, evolved to Pantsula and contemporary township styles he refers to as the isibujwa dances of Kwaito videos.
Pantsula 4 life
Pantsula 4 Life is the biography of Pantsula dance, scripted by Bongani Linda. It integrates various dances, from gumboot dance to marabi to popular township dances such as the kwasa kwasa and the manyisa.
“The style we use today and in the production is a cappella Pantsula,” says Dube. “We dance without music so that you can hear the sound of the foot when it moves. It is a fast movement, creating a sound like a moving train.”
Ayashisa Amateki, in turn, uses music as a script to tell township stories. The title comes from bubble-gum pop queen Mercy Pakela’s hit from the eighties, the heyday of Pantsula dance.
The production uses music to show the evolution of the genre, from seventies funk and Chico Twala’s hits of the eighties to today’s Kwaito and House music.
“I use music that is relevant to the township. I sometimes even use gospel music,” says director William Mbambo. “Some producers use rave music, but I don’t see the relation.”
Bongani Dinko’s Poetic Ankles aims to show that Pantsula dance is more about the message than the music. Dinko merges African poetry with dance, using music styles as diverse as kwaito and dance pop.
“It just works. These are two art forms that have always been around. I am just bringing them together.” The piece draws on the concept of traditional dance as a means to communicate with the ancestors.
“I took Pantsula as poetry. We use Pantsula to tell our stories. We don’t have to communicate with our entire bodies, sometimes facial expressions and the movement of the ankles can tell a story.”
To Mbambo, township life is communicated through the costume of the dancers, “The first generation Pantsula’s wore Brentwood trousers and check Vyella shirts and used walking sticks.”
The shiny tight pants of the Brentwood fashion influenced the movement of early dancers. Mbambo’s dancers maintain the slick bravado of the Pantsula dance by performing in “mathanda kitchens”, or two-piece suits. The Converse All Star tackie is ubiquitous in Pantsula dance.
Much like the tackie, Pantsula dance has remained wrapped around the feet of the youth. The message may change from resistance of apartheid to the contemporary issues of unemployment and HIV/Aids, but the dance remains immediately distinguishable.
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