Dance Politicsby Lindokuhle Nkosi / Images by Suicide Monkey / 14.11.2011
Mbuso Kgarebe, from Soweto based dance crew Afro Tribal, calls himself a dance activist. “In this country, dancing isn’t viewed as a serious career, especially urban dance. It’s not a recognised dance style. I plan to change that.” At fifteen years, he was a peroxide blonde boy who would spend whole afternoons watching, emulating and perfecting Sisqo’s dance moves. He hadn’t planned on becoming a professional dancer, it was never a viable option, but a series of uncoordinated events have now positioned him as one South Africa’s most recognised street dancers. Sounds exciting, but there is very little glamour to it though. Everyday is a hustle. The credence and recognition that pop-culture lends to other urban dance forms (like b-boying and hip-hop), has somehow failed to extend itself to iSbujwa and isiPantsula. Popular dance shows like Jika maJika tend to exploit the dancers for their own commercial purposes, and send them back to the streets where they found them with nothing more than a few minutes of fame, and maybe a new pair of sneakers.
“When I got the call from Red Bull, I told them upfront that I was not going to be used solely to help their brand. The crews had to get something out of it as well.” So they sat down and negotiated valid working contracts, and discussed how the Beat Battles could be used as a platform to further urban dance in South Africa. “We’re not just entertainers. We are profesionals with talent and skill and we should be treated as such. That’s why I haven’t gotten involved in other dance shows, it’s just exploitation.”
Back in 2000, when Mbuso moved from Orange Farm to Soweto, he was introduced to two theatre directors from France, Eric De Sarria and Neusa Thomas. At their Mama Africa Theatre Company, Mbuso was informally trained in other dance forms, namely afro-fusion (yes, by two Frenchmen) and contemporary dance. He stayed in France for some time where he was schooled in their incarnation of hip hop, and after bringing this knowledge back to his crew, they went on to win the Maputo International Dance Platform in 2005.
“People know me now, so I’m getting booked more, but because so few people actually know about iSbujwa, the kind of gigs I get booked for are limited.” This is a major issue in the South African dance scene. Dancers don’t know what platforms actually exist, and promoters tend to steer clear from things they’re unfamiliar with so you basically end up having to do everything yourself. “There’s only one real dance school in South Africa, but as a street dancer, there’s very little they can teach you. So you waste your time, and spend money you don’t have on a piece of paper that doesn’t even mean much.”
South Africa is still quite a long way from giving any kind of underground subcultures the credit they deserve. Graffiti artists are viewed as bored vandals with too much time and too little talent. And street dancers? Well, they’re just over-energetic kids who are too lazy to get real jobs. And the big boys with the wallets are doing very little to change that.
“My aim is that a few years from now, street dancers will be educated in the business and professional side of dance as well.” Says Mbuso seriously. But there’s a fair amount of internal politicking to overcome from within the dance community itself. The thing about urban culture is that everybody thinks they own it. “You have a lot of people claiming to be the originators of iSbujwa, so anytime I try to get anything formalised, I find a lot people trying to rubbish my authority to do so.” He sighs. “But I’m not trying to take possession of iSbujwa, I only want to push it further.”
Early next year, Mbuso, and his Afro Tribal crew will be taking their unique hybrid of Afro Fusion, Pantsula, b-boy, hip hop and iSbujwa moves to Brussels to teach at two prestigious dance schools. Expect iSbujwa to start catching on globally soon after.
*All images © Suicide Monkey.
Learn more about Red Bull Beat Battle here.