Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
22 Feb 2014
9:30 am

Fitness with friends in Soweto

Kulani Nkuna

Artistry is not a phenomenon reserved solely for performance scenarios. Floyd "Money" Mayweather's exploits in the ring, for example, have long been described as art of the highest order.

A soccer player warms up next to a graffiti in the Soweto Amphitheatre. Picture: Refilwe Modise.

Boxing is often described as a science, but Mayweather’s defensive prowess when retreating lends to improvisation, the most original form of expression when considered in the context of jazz music. What Zinedine Zidane used to do with the ball at his feet was akin to a conductor making sure that all the orchestra’s strings strummed to a singule beat.

In the Soweto Theatre precinct, arts and sport reside in perfect harmony. The theatre is the bastion for creative pursuits, regularly staging dramatic works and music, while the old Soweto Amphitheatre just below the building has become a hub for informal exercise for residents of the neighbourhood. The stairs of the amphitheatre doubles up as exercise apparatus for boxers. The stairs are steep and solid, presenting a daunting challenge for the unfit.

Ladies engage in a group exercise routine at the Soweto Amphitheatre. Picture: Refilwe Modise.

Ladies engage in a group exercise routine at the Soweto Amphitheatre. Picture: Refilwe Modise.

Playwrights, maskandi musicians and political speakers used the location back in the days when there was a strong festival and arts culture in Soweto. Now it is the hub for a different kind of activity, including all manner of exercise routines. Some use the steel stands for push ups while others head to the round cement area in front of the stage for an improptu game of soccer. The footballers show an immense skill level, with strangers often quickly building innate tactical understanding.

As this hive of activity brings the old amphitheatre to life, thespians in the theatre are engaged in a rigorous warm-up routine before going on stage for the fast-paced musical that is about to be performed for that evening’s audience. The intensity of the warm-up is similar to the exercise routines enjoyed by the fitness junkies in the amphitheatre. Sometimes it gets so hardcore that the musical’s director calls the choreographer to order lest he damages the cast before they go on stage.

 A fitness fanatic feels the burn while doing pull-ups at the Soweto Amphitheatre. Picture: Refilwe Modise

A fitness fanatic feels the burn while doing pull-ups at the Soweto Amphitheatre. Picture: Refilwe Modise

For most, the gym experience is an integral part of daily habit, pretty much like the never-ending appointment with Generations from Monday to Friday. There is a special quality about exercising outdoors and the sense of community in the amphitheatre is not replicated at the Virgin Active up the road at Maponya Mall.

“I do have membership at Virgin Active, but it is very boring there because I don’t have friends. Here, people actually exercise. At the gym, people just look at what you are wearing,” says Tshegofatso Letwaba.

Letwaba is an exercise fanatic who engages in various activities during the week and finds the amphitheatre to be a space that can meet her various exercise needs.

Actress Lebo Moagi is grateful for the reprieve given to her by her director, but she is still stretching to make sure that she has not sustained any injuries during her work-out.

“We’re in a very fast-paced play that requires acting, singing and dancing, so in a way I understand the intensity of the routine,” Moagi says.

“But at times it gets very physical, and it seems like we are soccer players. But we are artists!”