Thato Qofela’s journey with ‘pantsula’ began in his childhood backyard, where he first performed this lively dance that symbolises Black South African culture and resistance against the apartheid regime. Now, Qofela is leading the charge to revive this dance style and showcase it on a global platform as reported by The Fiji Times.
Pantsula, characterised by quick-stepping, energetic moves, and syncopated rhythms, originated among Black youth in townships like Qofela’s Katlehong during the era of apartheid’s racial segregation, which ended in 1994. It served as a means of social and political expression, a vehicle for resistance against oppression.
The choreography of pantsula, incorporating gestures mimicking sweeping, playing dice, and saluting, reflected the everyday experiences of Black South Africans. It also provided a secret code for performers to communicate, baffling the state police, who couldn’t decipher its meaning.
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While pantsula gained popularity across different racial groups in South Africa, it gradually receded as modern dance styles took centre stage.
Now, Qofela’s dance troupe, Via Katlehong, aims to breathe new life into the pantsula style and propel it onto the international stage. They have already captivated audiences with their performances in France, the Netherlands, and Portugal.
For Qofela, pantsula was more than mere entertainment. Growing up in Katlehong, where riots against the apartheid government were commonplace, the dance became a path to avoid trouble. The backyard rehearsals organised by his brother left him with no time to engage in illicit activities.
“For a child exposed to such situations, it is easy to succumb to drugs or crime,” explained the 34-year-old dancer, highlighting how pantsula provided a positive outlet.
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Thulisile Binda, a member of the troupe at 33, also finds solace and self-expression through pantsula. Dancing offers her a healing experience in the face of life’s challenges.
“There’s a certain kind of healing that takes place when you dance,” she shared.
Via Katlehong’s remarkable performances are drawing attention abroad and making waves at home. Lethabo Xulu, a local audience member, believes their shows serve as a means to address societal issues.
“Honestly, Via Katlehong provides a platform to offer solutions to many of the problems we’ve faced due to our shared history,” she expressed.
As Thato Qofela and Via Katlehong continue their mission to revive pantsula, this vibrant dance style is a testament to South Africa’s rich cultural heritage, resilience, and the power of movement to transcend boundaries and effect positive change.
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Photo: Facebook /@Via_Katlehong