Moves on the SA dance floor

2011-05-11 00:00

WHEN my brother returned from London after an eight-month venture, he came with a new theme song, Head, shoulders, knees n toes by K. I. G. It’s a house track which apparently was a huge hit in all the nightclubs around London with lyrics that prescribed the way you dance to it. You can watch it on youtube.com at xxx. It’s basically the words, “head, shoulders, knees and toes” and you have to touch the mentioned body parts.

Migraine Skank by Gracious K was also a club regular with dictating lyrics, much like the Cha Cha Slide by DJ Casper. “Everyone does it,” he would say, “the entire club.”

A part of me was in awe at the idea of this untaught national dance — a kind of subculture that amalgamates a variety of subcultures ... like the days of the Macarena.

Sure, you get dance moves that are common in clubs like headbanging, in which you bend forwards and bounce your hair to the music in a type of zombie-like demeanour, and the shuffle in which you simply move from side to side, adding your own flair to the rather stationary step. But these moves are allocated to a certain genre of music that appeals to a certain type of person. Like bhangra and garba. Now and then you may find the occasional wanderer headbanging to pop music, but it’s likely they would just hit someone with their head among the shoal of shufflers.

Alone at a recent event in Johannesburg, I befriended two women, one from Jozi and one from East London, who got me moving on the dancefloor with African dance moves which seemed common knowledge to all the black people there.

“This is called sika lekhekhe, cut the cake,” said my new mentor as she showed me the move. It involved a slightly sideways stance where you hit the side of your body with the pinky side of your up-faced palm. It was accompanied with an attitude, something that I couldn’t pull off due to fits of laughter.

Most of the moves I learnt that night seemed to come with an ordained attitude, a style and a name, and the ability to work with almost any type of music. That night the deejay was stuck on the techno-dance-house beats (what my grandmother calls “dooff dooff”), which would normally have me stumped on the dance floor shuffling and trying to work around the monotony.

“Don’t rush it,” said a guy who joined in on the teaching of the unknowing Indian girl. That seemed to be the key to every move, making it all almost seductive.

In Pietermaritzburg, while visiting my other grandmother, I told her domestic help about my Jozi dance-floor encounter. At the mention of “cut the cake”, she laughed and shook her head saying that that was a “bad” dance. (Suddenly the three men surrounding me afterwards made sense.) She knew every move that I described — the kwasa-kwasa, the manyisa, the Vuma — and I doubt she’s the clubbing type.

A friend of mine from Durban, a hard-rock fan at heart, was also clued up when I indulged in my newly acquired knowledge. Did every black person know the art or, at least of it?

According to the girl from East London, the dance moves constantly change with time and their origin is never really known.

“Someone sees it somewhere and then it spreads like a wild fire,” she said.

My friend from work explained that the moves were from various different places, such as music videos and cultural dances.

Either way, the steps have crossed province lines and income groups, and reached all ages and cultures. It’s a bond between South African black people: maybe not all of them, but a large portion.

We have the tendency to glamourise things that happen overseas and ignore the richness and variety among us in South Africa. Of course not everyone will be a fan of the vuma (nod the head), but there are those moments where someone starts something and the entire club follows, without the music singing out directions.

Four minutes of touching your head, shoulders, knees and toes seems dull by comparison.

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