Contemporary Dance Pantsula revives SA’s dance floor

Pantsula revives SA’s dance floor

Arts journalist Adrienne Sichel says pantsula is “very much an urban South African dance form”. Pantsula is the language of the township. Complicated rhythmic formations, gangster swagger and tsotsitaal (scamto) make up the vocabulary of this edgy dance form. Dressed in Converse All Star sneakers, the Poetic Ankles Mapantsula group showcase their fast-paced and complicated pantsula routines in Dlala Majimbozi. The group, part of the Ikhaya Theatre Company, is the oldest pantsula group in Grahamstown.

Director Bongani Diko says they have adapted street pantsula into a more formal and theatre-appropriate style for the high energy production. Choreographer Thozamile “Rocky” Mngcongo wanted Dlala Majimbozi to reflect life in Joza (Grahamstown East). Black Label crates are used as props to symbolise township life where these crates are often used in place of chairs. Bongani Linda, creator of Emonti Arts Company’s Hip Pantsula Jive, says pantsula as a dance form is on the decline in South Africa, along with kwaito music.

Pantsula brings life back to dance

“The American influence is like wild fire, destroying everything South African,” says Linda. Hip hop, he says, is becoming increasingly popular and this is leading to the downfall of “pure” pantsula. Sichel explains that every region has its own variety of pantsula, each typified by dress items, dance moves and choice of music.

Dlala Majimbozi, for example, fuses the township pantsula dance style with western rave in an attempt to fuse Grahamstown East and Grahamstown West. “People will be moved because, even if they don’t know the dance, they’ll know the music,” Diko said.

Is Pantsula authentic?

Modern pantsula, which Linda says incorporates a lot of break dancing and hip hop, makes South Africans “come across as copy cats”. Hip Pantsula Jive is an attempt to stand up against the “tornado of American influence”, says Linda.

We need to assert that “this is how it used to be done in the past. You can adapt it to your times but do not let it disappear,” he says. Rocky believes the dress code of pantsula should not change, but the dance moves do evolve with time. Sichel says pantsula has weaved its knee-jerking way through many generations, evolving to suit the change in urban lifestyle and incorporating popular forms, like the current hip hop trend.

Pantsula is not just a dance form. By incorporating mime (referred to as sketching), poetry and dialogue, the pantsula portrays the struggles of township life. Many of the performers rely on pantsula for their livelihood, but the lack of financial support makes it difficult to keep focused on dance. To make it as a pantsula, perseverance is as vital as their All Star sneakers.

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