Hartford Zulu Dancers
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)
For the last thirteen years, Hartford has championed the cause of Amasnamuva (performers), our Zulu traditional dance troupe, who begged the boss for an audition shortly after the opening of Hartford House as a boutique hotel. Having grown up in Pondoland, he’d seen more traditional dancers than most, and thinking that this might be more of the same, Mick Goss turned up for the audition on a Sunday morning with rather long teeth. Several of the troupe were tender young seedlings of eight and nine years of age, but turn up they did, beautifully regaled (at their own expense) in what it takes to perform this ancient art. They deposited their drums, girded with animal hides, on the flat turf in front of the hotel gazebo, and they beat them with garden hoses in a fashion he’d never encountered before. The remainder of these kids danced their socks off, and they were so good, Mick told them that henceforth, they’d be a permanent fixture for the pleasure of our guests every Saturday evening, weather permitting.
Until three years ago, they’d never ventured much further than Mooi River, but at the first opportunity, won the KZN Provincial Championships and the right to attend the National Championships, which they proceeded to win as well. Miraculously, this earned them a place at the World Traditional Dance Championships in Tokyo where, of 46 contesting nations, they finished third in the whole dam world!. A year later, they were in Hong Kong, and in their second place, they earned the title of Best Dance Troupe on the African continent. We fully expected them to take the World Championship in the United States this year, but sadly that contest was postponed because of that country’s financial plight.
It seems though, the word is out. Writing in “The Mercury” on Monday, Latoya Newman writes :
What was once a form of cultural dance used by a people to celebrate weddings, the inauguration of a King, winning a war, the birth of a child and more, is fast becoming an artistic dance expression that has crowds mesmirised the world over.
Over the years, Zulu dancing has evolved into a stage phenomenon which many dance schools and professionals have not only embraced on its own, but have merged with other dance forms of dance to create the ever popular "fusion".
Its popularity became more obvious on SA's Got Talent.
Kee-Leen Irvine, executive producer for Rapid Blue who produced the show said it saw about 100 cultural dance groups, many of then Zulu cultural items.
"The response from the audience, across cultures, to these items was phenomenal."
Beside the increasing interest in these forms of dance, what is also apparent is that over the years more and more people from other cultural backgrounds are embracing Zulu dance forms.
Xolani Majozi, theatre producer and compiler at K-Cap, an arts development company based in KwaMashu, said his group - which has toured the country and the world - is always well received.
"Whenever we do a theatre or musical production we make sure it is traditional, because of its appeal to the audience, especially international audiences. When you go overseas and you say you are doing a South African production, they expect to see Zulu dance.
"Umoja and IpiNtombi, for example, have toured in different countries and Zulu dancing has made those groups famous. Zulu dancing is being embraced across cultures.
Even if you look back at groups like Johnny Clegg and Juluka and Savuka, what made them popular was the Zulu element," said Majozi.
Professor Musa Xulu, a Durban-based ethno-musicologist and heritage consultant, said every society had some form of dance that became "folk" dance.
"From time to time people use these dance forms for commercial reasons and Zulu dance is no different," he said.
Xulu said Zulu dance was "perfected" in the hostels and mines with competitions that took place on weekends, especially in Durban.
"But at that time people danced for social reasons, like for courtship and so on. Over the past 15 years or so, a commercial element has started creeping in. Among other things, the "brand" Zulu has become a recognised brand across the world because of history," he said.
Xulu said today most dancers came from township areas because young people there have recognised "the gap in the market" and that if you had a Zulu dance product and added modern elements to it, you had popular dance. "It is a way to make a living, so it is commercialised."
Xulu said it was good that other people from different cultures were participating.
"Any art form grows a lot when people from diverse backgrounds enter it. If you look at pennywhistle music, for example, once Mango Groove embraced it, it became a world phenomenon. People from diverse backgrounds will come with different ideas," he said.
As is the case with the Surialanga Dance Company. Artistic Director Suria Govender said they embraced a fusion of cultures in their performances, which had travelled abroad.
She believes that not only will Zulu dance continue to grow in the arts, but that fusion (a mix of Zulu, Indian and other cultural dances) will also become trendier.
"It is an expression of our identity as South Africans. We are a melting pot of cultures and the arts is one way for us to see how we understand where we are at," she said.