We’re known to be a rhythmical bunch, with our varied tastes in music and extensive repertories of dance moves – coming up with moves that encapsulate timeless moments of our nation. Phumlani S Langa speaks to well-known choreographers about some of those classics.
When it comes to matters of the dance floor, we get it all the way in. Whether we’re winding our hips, bouncing up and down on our haunches or simply falling to the ground with King Monada.
Not many countries could stand up to us in a dance battle. Looking back, we’ve identified a few of the more popular moves that every South African should know, besides the always handy toyi toyi.
Let’s start with the kwasa kwasa. Arthur Mafokate is a problematic individual, but he didn’t invent this dance. He had an uncanny ability to spark dance crazes way before social media dance challenges. Back then, he didn’t even have a Facebook page, just Channel O and Studio Mix.
Kwasa kwasa was not his to start with. He did give us the twalatsa, a rhythmical bop that’s not so far removed from something such as the American Dougie.
We caught up with choreographers Chris Van Staden, Pacou Mutombo, Khabonina Qubeka and Xavier Steeze to reminisce and relive the best dance moves our country has seen.
Responsible for the choreography at events such as the SA Music Awards, Steeze goes through our list and breaks down a few of his top picks.
Kwasa kwasa: “A revolutionary dance that involves the movement of the waistline. An African-originated type of dance style in the 1980s. Africa as a whole loved and spread this move all around their world.”
Twalatsa: “Triple 9’s Arthur Mafokate came out with the trend-setting moves and the songs to match. This move was like the Dougie, one that everyone could do at a party or family function, no matter their age. It was my party trick move.”
Tsipa: “This was a humorous move that trended as a result of the hit songs by Amaskumfete and later Mafokate that came with it. The butt-clinching move is a sure stunner and was like the kill-off move that I’d do to end off a set in a circle.”
Sika lekhekhe: “This grabbed a lot of attention during its time because of the hidden connotation behind it and the actual nature of the dance using your hands to ‘cut the cake’. Another easy-to-do move for anyone.”
Ngwaz’: “A praying mantis-like gesture with the hands, it was one of those moves that was also used quite a lot by the masses. Another humorous move to many.”
Current: “It was a very straight forward move that didn’t necessarily trend but had a song that would activate people to do the ‘current’ by Spikiri of Trompies.”
Scratch: “This move originated in Joburg and involved a swift movement with the feet, sliding and switching from left to right. This was definitely a battle move in dance circles, also a sbujwa [a free-style genre that incorporated elements of hip-hop, jive and pantsula] move.”
Gwara gwara: “DJ Bongz had this move trending around the world, with artists such as Rihanna, Beyoncé and Chris Brown doing this move at awards shows and festivals. It’s one of my favourites.”
Vosho: “This special move is derived from a dance move called saka that was upgraded in Durban to a quick-drop with different variations. Everyone wanted to do it because of its simplicity and impact when done properly.”
Remember Jongo, Joburg’s first superhero? Mutombo happens to be an immensely proficient hip-hop dancer and choreographer.
Real ones will recall his dance crew Kinesics which specialised in fundamental hip-hop dance styles.
“I enjoy that we’re originators and creators. We bring out what we feel. Dance is a feeling first before becoming a name. As Africans, we vibe with that frequency which eventually becomes popular.”
Mutombo enjoys most dance styles. He says: “If I were to choose one, I’d go with the kwasa kwasa. It originates from the [Democratic Republic of] Congo, where I’m from, and originally it was called mutwashi. Out of all the dances, it’s still the one I use – fusing it with all my other styles of dance.”
What is the most difficult dance move we have come up with as a nation?
“The scratch! If you’re not African or have a slight sense of rhythm, it’s over for you,” he laughs. “Just the coordination itself to do the move will mess you up. Now try to explain [that] and break it down for a non dancer. Good luck!”
Multitalented entertainer Qubeka also happens to be an accomplished dancer and choreographer, with a diploma in dance, as well as being quite the fitness fanatic.
“You can never forget the kwasa. It was a marriage between us and the rest of Africa. I remember when my uncle returned from exile in Tanzania and he was doing it. He told me that’s where he picked it up [from],” Qubeka recounts.
“When we did events in other parts of the continent the people would really respond to it.”
The gwara gwara had the same effect, in her opinion, and she loved how it was used by Rihanna at the 2018 Grammy Awards. DJ Bongz is attributed with pioneering this dance move although debates broke out around whether or not the movement was South African or one from the streets of the US.
We think the US is reaching.
Qubeka doesn’t see any popular local dance moves as being difficult or easy: “The move has to be in your blood, it’s either in your system or it isn’t. It isn’t about difficulty, maybe your body just doesn’t feel it. Different bodies move and respond to moves differently.”
The talented actress and dancer brings to mind something you might be familiar with.
“When you watch a show and you see two different dancers but the one is catching your eye and the other isn’t. That’s because the one was taught that routine and the other had it in their blood, same with any art.”
CHRIS VAN STADEN
Van Staden has been dancing for 13 years and grew up on the East Rand in Johannesburg.
The runner-up in Season 3 So You Think You Can Dance has toured with Cassper Nyovest, Riky Rick, Nasty C, Sho Madjozi and even opened up for J Cole, Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott.
He loves how there’s a whole style that’s ours, each move forming part of an African conversation.
“The gwara gwara was when things started changing and individual moves got bigger and spoke for themselves,” he says.
Van Staden says this is a fundamental move when dancing subjwa.
“If I had to reference Thuso Phala, that dance represents him directly. Even that Wololo Babes Wodumo thing changed our dance culture. We got noticed faster and these aren’t difficult moves.
“Gogo can do it at home and we all share in it, even us mlungus,” he chuckles.
He recommends staying away from the tsipa if you are a white person.
“It’s difficult because us mlungus ... we don’t have bums.”
We should also mention the bibo, mata wena, the Durban kwasa and the hlokoloza – which all played a part in shaping our country’s collective dance routine – a timeless conversation of the body and we can’t wait to see what comes next.