Gather around for a groovy show

Gather around for a groovy show

Dance, especially of the indigenous variety, is an expressive art form that never fails to spring surprises. Be it from the interiors of Australia or South Africa, indigenous dance forms have a flavour of their own that is hard to replicate. I had a firsthand experience of the same on my recent visit to South Africa.

Before setting out on my trip, I had no idea about the Tsonga people and their culture — most of all, the xibelani dance they are so famous for. 

The Tsonga people, inhabiting the Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa, are a storehouse of indigenous knowledge, and a rich history to back them. The unique customs they follow, the rituals they practise and the dance and music they take immense pride in left me dumbfounded. Particularly interesting was their xibelani dance, performed only by the Tsonga women. With colourful knee-length skirts, specially designed for these dances, the dancers shake their waists to their own distinct music.

According to a local friend, these skirts are designed in such a way that the dancer’s body, from waist below, looks bigger so that the xibelani dance steps are emphasised! They reminded me so much of the costumes our dancers wear for dance forms like Manipuri.

The Tsonga women, who take immense pride in their heritage, wait for an excuse to show off their dancing skills. At this point, it is pertinent to tell you that every Tsonga girl is expected to learn the dance. Not that they mind. On the contrary, they take pleasure in the fact that xibelani is traditionally a woman’s dance. However, changing times have seen xibelani acquire an open dance status, and now both men and women dance. Also, some celebratory occasions termed ‘xiseveseve’ require men to perform xibelani, I was informed.

In the recent past, this dance has gained popularity among the audiences, forcing all Tsonga bands to have xibelani dancers as part of their group.

Watching a xibelani performance was simply an intoxication, while it also piqued me to find out about the other dance the men were performing with these women. It is makhwaya and xincayinciy, I learnt. The rhythmic manner in which the men and women performed, lost in their own world of dance, transported me to a whole new world altogether.

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