Introducing the Ntuzuma Dance Sceneby Samora Chapman / Images by Samora Chapman / 02.04.2013
Siya, aka ‘Sweet Bones’, is my way into the Ntuzuma dance scene. The recent Red Bull Beat Battle in Durban revealed that Ntuzuma, a township northwest of the city, is one of the epicentres of contemporary dance culture in the land of the Zulu Nation. Sweet Bones is a small, soft-spoken guy of 20. As we snake through the hellish afternoon traffic, Sweet Bones tells me his story.
‘I started dancing local style when I was about 12. Then one day I was walking home from school and I saw these guys doing crazy moves. Acrobatics and popping and locking and breaking. So I joined them and started learning hip hop. We eventually became the Warrior Knights, godfathers of Ntuzuma dance culture.’
Sweet Bones wears a tie, a purple button-up shirt, some slick rick jeans and high-tops. A young man dressed for success. He’s been with his manager, Allison Bain, discussing gigs at the BRICS Summit, uShaka Marine World and The Sharks Rugby on Saturday. His crew, Warrior Knights, is on fire.
‘Dancing gives us a future, you know. We travel the country, enter battles, do shows. Now we are teaching younger crews, and all the other kids in the township see that through dancing you can make it in this world.’
We swoop past Florida Road and pick up Flex, founder and leader of the Warrior Knights. He looks like Andre 3000, but perhaps cooler. ‘Today, if you wanna make it you have to embrace all styles,’ explains Flex. ‘I learnt how to break in Marianne Hill, and I was the first one to bring breaking to Ntuzuma. Now we have four crews going! Warrior Nights is the principal crew, then we have Em Fresh Boys, Dlalamaphantsula and Demolition Warriors.’
The Warrior Nights are mentoring the young crews, teaching them to be versatile and embrace many disciplines, from ba-da-da to krump; creating a real hub of dance culture in the heart of the township. Rehearsals go down at the Madlakazulu School and street cyphers are like summer thunder: they end off every good day.
‘I saw these kids dancing in my hood one day, doing local style,’ says Sweet Bones of his young pantsula crew. ‘I was like Yo! That used to be me! So we got the kids together and started working on their routine, teaching them that hard work pays off. They chose the name Dlalamaphantsula and the Beat Battle was their first performance! We didn’t have money for fly gear, so they all brought their school uniforms and swapped pieces until they had a cool outfit. Now we’re putting them on all our gigs.’
So the Warrior Knights have taken a leadership role in their community, using the medium of dance as a means to transcend the ghetto mind state. ‘A lot of our role models in the township let us down,’ says Flex like a young sage. ‘We looked up to certain heroes, then they ended up getting into drugs and crime. Now we’re the role models. We’re often on TV and we’ve won a couple of big battles like Battle of the Giants at Sun City and the Jikamajika Crew Battle. We’re gonna make sure we bring up the next generation and don’t let them down.’
We exit the highway and cut a path towards KwaMashu, Durban’s most infamous township where tin shacks and cheap government housing are mashed together in an endless sea of improvised and haphazard life. KwaMashu blurs into Ntuzuma to the South. Despite the chaos, or maybe as a result of it, the township is a vibrant place. Dogs, chickens and children roam the streets and elders sit on the corner, wizened and weathered… surveying life in their hood. The township has a sense of community that doesn’t seem to exist in the big city or the burbs.
‘How’s life in the township?’ I ask. ‘Is it as scary a place as everybody on my side perceives it to be?’
‘Ja man, life in the hood is rough,’ says Flex. ‘There are some gangsters who don’t like us. They call us niggers. When we won R15 000 in this one competition, they found out and they wanted a pay out. It’s a dangerous place. But I’ve never been robbed or attacked. Maybe I’m lucky. But we always move with our crew.’
‘What do youngsters in the hood do for fun, apart from dancing?’ I ask.
‘A few kids play soccer, and there’s a bit of a hip hop scene and some poets, but many kids are bored and lost,’ explains Flex. ‘There’s this new drug called ‘whoonga’, and once you start you’ll do anything to get the next hit. Even rob and steal. It’s like tik. That’s why we’re trying to be role models. To give young people hope.’
We head up through a winding maze of dusty roads into Ntuzuma and eventually arrive at the school where the crews gather. Inside, a sweaty bright eyed gathering of kids are doing warm ups with one of the Warrior Nights – Super Kid. I slap hands with the burly dancer and discover he has six fingers on each hand. A sign of great power and mysticism in Zulu culture!
I do warm ups with Dlalamaphantsula, like a tall white MJ ghost in the back of a Jackson 5 rehearsal. The Demolition Warriors arrive and start flexing their pure b-boy styles. Once the blood’s flowing and we’re loose, we head out for a street cypher in the heart of Ntuzuma. Kids spill out of every shack and soon the streets are filled with clapping, whistling and stamping… and the dance-off begins. Every dancer represents, competing for the wildest style until night descends. Soon I’m heading back to the big city lights, a richer man than I was before.
*All images © Samora Chapman
Learn more about Red Bull Beat Battle here.