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Dance, tourism in South Africa

Warriors did it with spears and shields on the battlefield, and once the dust settled, women did it with a sexy shuffle in the she…

Warriors did it with spears and shields on the battlefield, and once the dust settled, women did it with a sexy shuffle in the she beens or watering holes. Before 1994 when the country joyfully leaped to its well-deserved freedom, its people formed a phalanx against their oppressors with a jump-step protest dance.

And there’s much more to dance culture of South Africa than the umgubha, patha-patha, and the toyi-toyi.

South African dance culture can be appreciated across the country in well-equipped venues or in cosy corners where the dancing is often done to the din of revelry.

In Johannesburg ballet, contemporary, gumboot, and other forms of cultural dance are performed at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein, the Lyric at Gold Reef City, the Victory Theatre in Orange Grove, or if your timing is right, you could catch the versatile and vibrant spread at the FNC Dance Umbrella, the biggest such showcase in Africa.

The capital’s only 60 kilometres away for audiences interested in grand style first-world ballet productions at the Pretoria State Theatre. In 2006 the St. Petersburg Ballet performed Swan Lake here to packed houses.                 

The country’s colonial threshold, Cape Town, has an equal abundance of typically South African dance experiences. Cape Town City Ballet with its backdrop of Table Mountain must certainly be one of the most exquisitely positioned classic dance companies in the world.

One of the city’s most famous citizens, the late Phyllis Spira, still one of only 8 prima ballerina absolutas in the world, launched an outreach programme in Gugulethu that has introduced to the world stage several African dancers second to none!

And if you prefer warmer climes, Durban’s Jomba! at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre is one of the fastest contemporary dance experiences that the country has seen.

Dance festivals in South Africa have blossomed since former President Nelson Mandela smilingly jigged onto the world stage, instilling happiness in the hearts of a divided nation perched on the threshold of unified liberation. Is it any wonder that the country’s current president also has a dance routine?

In South Africa dance festivals are like rugby for the rhythmically inclined. Spontaneous break-outs of dance aren’t uncommon on the streets and if you miss these, be sure to witness the natural affinity South Africans have for riveting rhythm at one of the many venues hosting dance festivals.

Be it the Barn Theatre in Port Elizabeth; the Baxter or Little Theatre at the University of Cape Town; the Dance Factory in Johannesburg; the Guild Theatre in East London; Port Elizabeth’s Opera House and Savoy Theatre; the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban; or Grahamston’s Box and Rhodes theatres, you can count on a dance festival being staged at a venue nearby.

In South Africa, dance festivals often have a distinct grassroots appeal. In Stutterheim there’s the Amahlathi Festival, Knysna has an Arts Festival, Oudtshoorn has the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, in Potchefstroom there’s Aardklop, the Stellenbosch Summer Festival hosts the St Anne’s Theatre Festival, Grahamstown takes the lead with its National Arts Festival and Pick of the Fringe, and just over the mountain in a fairytale part of the country said to have inspired Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien, is the Hogsback Festival.

South African dance events in the cities include the FNB Dance Umbrella, the Arts Alive Festival, the Women in Arts Festival, and the Out the Box Festival in Johannesburg; the Spier Contemporary Festival as well as Pick of the Fringe in Cape Town; and in Durban the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience has become all the rage.

There’s so much more dancing in South Africa to be enjoyed. Best you hot-foot it here. www.southafrica.net

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