Nandipha Pantsi
3 minute read
10 Jun 2014
8:00 am

In praise of pantsula

Nandipha Pantsi

It's 2011. Beyoncé, one of the biggest music stars around, releases a song called Run The World.

Jabulani Manyoni and Junior Hlongwane dancing on Vilakazi street on October 10, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The duo, who call themselves 'Skeleton Pantsula' were spotted by US delegates from Forevermark. They were invited to perform at numerous corporate events in New York City, as well as public performances in Times Square. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

The song is about empowering women and in the video Beyoncé leads an army of women, who battle it out with men on the dancefloor. The video won many awards, including Best Choreography at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards and Best Dance Performance at the 2011 Soul Train Music Awards.

What most people don’t know is that the dance in the video is called pantsula. It’s a highly energetic dance that was born in the streets of Soweto in the eighties. The two men in the video with Beyoncé are a Mozambican pantsula dance group called Tofo Tofo, who created the video’s choreography.

Growing up in a township, there is no way that you can miss pantsula dancers. They’re dressed in formal pants and T-shirts that are neatly tucked in. Their All Star or Dickies sneakers are tightly laced up, and their small floppy hats called “panamas” sit loosely on their heads. They look hip and they speak in a cool lingo, but what they do best is dance.

Combining African tap and hip hop break dancing stunts to the beats of kwaito music has made pantsula the popular dance that it is today.

A pantsula dance group entertain people on May 11, 2013 in Soweto, South Africa. Soweto hosted an informal dance-off competiton over the weekend to revive street dance. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Mohau Mofokeng)

A pantsula dance group entertain people on May 11, 2013 in Soweto, South Africa. Soweto hosted an informal dance-off competiton over the weekend to revive street dance. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Mohau Mofokeng)

Despite being recognised by the world as a great dance form, actor Mpho Molepo believes that more needs to be done to nurture and expose pantsula dance in South Africa. This is what motivated him to start the Dlala Mapantsula festival in collaboration with the Soweto Theatre. The annual event, which took place last weekend, saw more than 40 pantsula dance groups showcasing their skills while auditioning for the Dlala Mapantsula production, which will take place on the 15th and 16th of June at the Soweto Main Theatre.

“There are so many young people who are dancing in their communities,” says Molepo.

“But there is no platform where they can be seen by industry professionals who can provide some kind of employment for them. The festival is a professional stage which allows new emerging talent to be exposed to the broader public.

“There are still a lot of people who see pantsula dancers as thugs and associate them with crime and violence. These perceptions are what limits support for the dance form. Pantsula has become an established dance discipline which needs to be encouraged. Pantsula is a proudly South African dance, which is a beautiful reflection of the creativity which comes out of our communities.”

Jabulani Manyoni and Junior Hlongwane dancing on Vilakazi street on October 10, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The duo, who call themselves 'Skeleton Pantsula' were spotted by US delegates from Forevermark. They were invited to perform at numerous corporate events in New York City, as well as public performances in Times Square. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

Jabulani Manyoni and Junior Hlongwane dancing on Vilakazi street on October 10, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The duo, who call themselves ‘Skeleton Pantsula’ were spotted by US delegates from Forevermark. They were invited to perform at numerous corporate events in New York City, as well as public performances in Times Square. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

Some could argue that true pantsula has been replaced by the “new age SA hip hop culture” something which Molepo doesn’t agree with.

“The only reason we are seeing more hip hop is because there is a lot more support from the media for hip hop. Walk into any township and you will see that pantsula still dominates.”