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Culture, Jiva

Sound Effects and Cyphers

by Ts'eliso Monaheng / Images by Mpumelelo Macu / 20.03.2013

Mzansi has had a firm grip on this dance thing for some centuries now. Remember Isandlwana? Abo-mlungu are rumoured to have been so shook by those Zulus’ war shuffle that their only resolve was to retreat before facing total defeat on the battlefield. While that era is long-gone, the spirit of dance and the act of dancing remains; umtenyo, indlamu, mohobelo; the jive, ispantsula and its bastard love child isbujwa; the adopted and appropriated styles – b-boying and krumping. Simply put South Africa loves to groove; hell, the most-watched television channel in this country has a show dedicated to the ever-evolving undercurrent of dance culture, Jika Majika!

Pretoria, famous in some circles for the Voortrekker Monument and those purple Jacaranda trees, and in others for DJ Mujava and his s’ghubu sa Pitori, served as the battleground for the Redbull Beat Battle qualifiers this past Saturday. It was planned to be an early start, 10am by some estimates. Walking into the State Theatre’s ground floor and down one level into the parking lot, then straight through the hallway leading to the auditorium, dance crews scattered about in similar fashion to small ant colonies.

Pantsula Chill

“Hello how are you?” Squeaked a voice from the registration desk. “Who’s the crew leader?” the voice continued in its teleprompter fashion, leaving no time for an answer to the ‘how are you?’ part. In the auditorium, Vouks, one of the judges, announces a short warm-up workshop before the showcase begins. It’s 11.30am and crews are still streaming in. Things will continue in this fashion until 3pm when a break is announced.

Workshop Warm Up

All around, the competitors’ uniformity is evident, something that has more agency with a legacy of fashion and its intersection with dance culture than it has with one of the rules which stipulated that judges would be looking out for “elements of originality ranging from the use of music versus dance, fashion and presentation.” The point about music versus dance did not make much sense until later on when Vouks commented on the imbalance he was witnessing between the two. “There are too many sound effects and not enough dancing!” He said.

And it’s true. But then again, this is a generation tuned to the Facebook frequency; Internet kids with bluetooth-enabled gadgets and the attention span of the average Twitter feed. It reflects in their music selection – five-second chunks of pop punctuated by explosive stings and gunshot sound effects akin to radio jingles. It is expressed in the choice of clothes; bright colours and flashy hair-dos, very confused, yet very deliberate. It is immediate, it is now, and it seeks attention through explosive sounds and loud, brash, polished music. As for the dance? What dance, they ask. Shouldn’t it be measured, isn’t balance required? Bullshit, they say! Out with the rules; the kids will dictate! All the on-lookers (haters?) are good for is passing ineffective criticism from the bandstand. You are not the show, and you definitely have not lived our lives.

Parking Lot Leopards

Mid-way between the Sarafina-style monologues of Liberty and Kryptonite Crew’s Superman-unfriendly krump moves, the judges deemed an intervention necessary. One of them, Sello, spoke of how he got his break from the very stage the other crews were competing on, and how he was not impressed by most of what he’d seen up to that point. A large portion of the competitors lacked conviction; sub-par exponents whose enthusiasm for the competition was not being translated to the audience.

The mini-sermon yielded results. The crews – faithful adherents to the advice – endeavoured to utilise the space around them; to forcefully grab the crowd’s attention and use it as an impetus for their exquisite flares, agile six-step techniques and writhing pantsula taps, which Sello described as “the horse movement, pa-pa-da, pa-pa-da; the connection between floor and feet.” A few muscles got twisted, some tears were shed due to disappointing finishes, but an overall sense of elation enveloped the theatre. Kryptonite Crew’s high-adrenaline krump moves sparred with HFM’s sbujwa choreography, while Liberty’s incorporation of tin cans in their routine evoked memories of theatre group-style routines performed at town halls in townships back in the day.


Back outside, on the street, the crews who had just competed on the stage engaged in their own freestyle dance cypher. A chance to make up for missed opportunities and flex the real freestyle abilities beyond the tension of the theatre. There are no rules or group affiliations here, just a circle chock-full of talented kids from Tshwane’s distant reaches. The slang is infectious; the music blaring, the heat blazing, the vintage-clad kids who temporarily interrupt the proceedings, the street sweeper who is only concerned about doing his job – all these elements add a liveliness to the dance moves, a realness that this is where this culture belongs, on the street, held in a circle of believers. The beats and the energy created a seamless transition between the outside and the inside; a yin-yang dichotomy which lobotomised the wack in favour of the strong. Out on the street, it’s soothing to experience the real lifeline of the Mzansi dance scene; the kids who practice days on end, often with no guarantee of success or recognition.

– Vox Pops –

Chaotic Fusion

Chaotic Fusion

“We haven’t seen that much competition. It’s only a few crews that give energy. Otherwise, I think Chaotic Fusion has what it takes”

Kryptonite Krew

Kryptonite Crew

“We’re two-time world champions. We’ve been dancing for a very long time, and after dancing all over the world, we’ve just decided to get back to the street where we started and rep Cap City!”



“We didn’t expect the stage to be set up like that. We did our best, but we expected to do a whole lot more”

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*All images by Mpumelelo Macu / Red Bull.

Learn more about Red Bull Beat Battle here.

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