Dance and Emotions

A boy busting a move in front of his peers.
Gumboot dance performance.
Children or young adults celebrating Freedom Day.

Black peoples in South Africa speak different languages at home, have different rites of passage and often live in different parts of the country. One thing that many of these peoples have in common, though, is a fondness of dancing and rhythms.

Dance and emotions

Due to their liking of dancing and rhythms, it is not unusual to see black South Africans of various backgrounds spontaneously dance on the spot. They usually do this when they are happy, which could be inspired by things going their way in sports or politics, for example. Equally, when things are hard, black South Africans sometimes also like to dance. When doing hard labor and protesting in the streets, for instance, rhythmic movements and singing or chanting can serve to strengthen and unite blacks through uniform action.

The Gumboot dance

Taking a quick look at history we see that use of rhythm as a morale booster is not just a modern phenomenon. It also occurred in the late 19th century when black men of different origins found themselves working in mines far away from home. Prevented from talking and singing in the mines, the men here invented a new expression known as Gumboot dance to communicate and to better endure the work.

The communicative Gumboot dance consisted of hand clapping, slaps on rain boots and ground stomping, through which supposed work-related criticism and mockery of white supervisors were relayed. The white bosses didn’t quite understand what messages the black workers passed on to each other through their dance, and it therefore became a useful and amusing activity for the workers.

To celebrate and remember black people’s history of working in South African mines, the Gumboot dance is still performed today, albeit on stage and not in mines.