22 October 2017

South Africa: Khayelitsha's Up and Coming Pantsula Dancer

Fast and slick foot movements, popping and locking, head-spinning, crawling and hat throwing. This is the art of pantsula dancing.

Pantsula is a township dance style in South Africa. "From way back, people from townships around the country have done pantsula. Back then dancers used to relay a message through their dances, or tell stories through their dance and moves," says pantsula dancer Sizwe Nguqe.

Nguqe, 32, who lives in Khayelitsha Site B, started dancing in 1994. He was nine years old and in primary school.

"There was a Sasko Sam [a bread brand] road show and they were looking for dancers. I came out number one and I won a loaf of bread. That is where it really started," says Nguqe.

"I taught myself how to dance. I used to watch a lot of kwaito music videos where pantsula dancing was the thing, and I would imitate the dance moves and practise. I told myself that I would one day be like those dancers."

Most pantsula dance is done in a group. Nguqe says he used to be part of a group, but as they grew up the members of the group went their separate ways.

The standard dress code for a pantsula is overalls, Converse All Star takkies and a hat. But over the years, the style has evolved and some dancers wear coordinated outfits like vintage straight cut pants with matching waistcoat, a shirt and a "poor boy" cap. Nguqe says he usually wears orange overalls. "It's all about being comfortable and being able to move freely in what you're wearing."

Nguqe does his own choreography and has taught a number of people around Khayelitsha how to dance. He puts on shows around Khayelitsha and invites other dancers to showcase their styles to the public.

Nguqe has share the stage with popular South African kwaito artists like Zola 7, Arthur Mafokate and Doc Shebeleza. He has also travelled to Mozambique, Sweden, Canada and Germany, where he taught students the pantsula dance.

He will be featured in a music video by Freshlyground, set to drop before the end of the year.

Nguqe, a former Rape Crisis organiser, now earns his living from his dance. But he says he is still a community activist and likes getting involved in projects around Khayelitsha and Cape Town that uplift the youth. He dances to house and kwaito music and practises at home when he has free time.

Asked whether it was easy to learn the pantsula dance and which move was the most difficult to learn, Nguqe said, "The pantsula dance involves using all parts of the body, especially the feet. You have to be very flexible and loose when doing is'pantsula.

"The hardest move is the one involving the feet, because you have to be quick. It takes a lot of practice."

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