Dance Preserving life and culture through dance

Preserving life and culture through dance

It’s more than just matching outfits, fancy footwork and township music. Pantsula is a way of life and a cultural movement that, through dance, can convey the movements of a nation. For dancer Ayanda Nondlwana, it’s also a way of connecting with his fellow performer and best friend, who died six months ago.

A well-known dancer, dramatist and choreographer, Thozamile ‘Rocky’ Mngcongo died in hospital after being stabbed as the result of a fight earlier this year, leaving the Grahamstown community  mourning the loss of one of the city’s most talented performers. Mngcongo was also the main choreographer of Pantsula van Tuka Af, a Fringe dance performance at this year’s Festival that portrays the story of the pantsula movement from its ’50s Sophiatown roots until today. The show will be performed by the Via Kasi Movers, a pantsula group started by Mngcongo and Nondlwana.

Having befriended Mngcongo in 2001, Nondlwana took the loss of his friend exceptionally hard. “We were brothers and I saw my brother die in my arms,” says Nondlwana, hardly able to meet my eyes. “He choreographed everything we did; all the steps I do are his steps.”

For a while, Nondlwana thought he would scrap the show altogether. But in the spirit of pantsula, a dance style rooted in an apartheid-governed South Africa that survived the turmoil and struggle of the nation, Nondlwana kept on dancing. “Pantsula is about celebration. It’s about acknowledging your past, but moving on and dancing for the good in your life,” explains Nondlwana.

“Rocky knew that, and he would be proud to see us doing our thing and spreading the word about pantsula. It took a long time for him and me to get our dance crew, The Via Kasi Movers, where we are today and now I can immortalise him in our dance.”

Today, connotations of crime and gangsterism have marred the reputation of this dance style. Nondlwana explains that pantsula has lost touch with its roots and its community. Originally seen as a form of protest and a physical statement against oppression, it has been cast out of the townships where it was born.

“The blacks just think we are tsotsis now and they don’t want to see us dance the dance that they should be dancing too. It’s the whites who have started to like what we do, but they don’t know anything about it,” says Nondlwana.

“Pantsula van Tuka Af will take you through the decades of pantsula and show you how far it has come and what it can allow us to do.”

The Via Kasi Movers have performed in various nationwide dance competitions such as Step Up or Step Out, an reality dance show, as well as a Johannesburg-based pantsula competition called Stumbo Stomp, but they dropped out of this in order to perform Pantsula van Tuka Af.

“We realised that honouring our friend and brother, and spreading the pantsula culture was more important than any competition” says Nondlwana.

– Dave Mann

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