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Pantsula Dancers (AW)

Alexia Webster/TwentyTen

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Pantsula was birthed in the townships of South Africa in the 1950’s. Originally referring to a style of dress, it soon evolved into a cultural expression and later into a dance form. By the 1980’s, when the townships were aflame and war had broken out between the Apartheid police and the young men in the area, Pantsula dance was a means of expression for many.

The culture of Pantsula was commonly associated with ‘tsotsis’ (gangsters) in the sixties and seventies, but has recently become a means of employment for many young men who have otherwise had little support.

Orange Farm, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, is home to the Pantsula dance crew, Real Action. The crew have become local celebrities in their neighbourhood after appearing in TV commercials, music videos and road shows. On Sunday afternoons the group do an impromptu show on the street in their neighbourhood. Often flagged by a troop of excited children, Real Action never fail to entertain.
With a massive unemployment rate among the youth of South Africa, it is very significant that these young men manage to eke a living from dancing. Not only do they support themselves, they have also become role models to young boys growing up in the same neighbourhood. Sibusiso Mthembu, a member of Real Action, says that Pantsula has taught him discipline that has enabled him to stay away from drugs, alcohol and crime.

Bhanzele Masango from the Tembisa group, Tembisa Revolution, says, “Pantsula is not really recognized. It is an important thing in the community. It keeps young kids focused and away from bad influences and we do “sketches” which teach people. We do sketches about what’s happening in schools. At the moment there is a lot of disease spreading, so we'll do a sketch to teach people about disease. I think it would be great if Pantsula was in theatres and taken more seriously by everyone in the country”.

Whatever the future of Pantsula dancing, it forms a vital part of community life in Orange Farm and provides employment for several lucky young men who would otherwise have been facing very different futures.

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