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Culture, Jiva

Stand Out or Stand Outside

by Andy Davis / Images by Tyrone Bradley / 14.05.2012

There’s always a new movement on the red, dusty streets of ekasi. From the heyday of kwaito and pantsula dancing, through the appropriation of top down hip hop and krumping styles and now to iSbhujwa and the flamboyant izikothane craze, where kids get together and destroy their clothes to show how much swag they’ve got. And while they do this, they dance, usually to the deep progressive basslines of Mzansi house. The kids are moving differently these days. There’s precision and rigour in the moves but also a sensuality, an elasticity in the hips, a suppleness at the knees. iSbhujwa brings it all; precise technical moves taken from b-boy floor work, pantsula foot work and stuff like the robot, but then there’s a flow that unites and links all the pieces together, delivering a style that’s both unique and sexy as hell. No doubt, right now, Danny K is locked in a dance studio in Norwood, trying to learn how to iSbhujwa. There’s fresh MTV gold in them moves.

And while for many it may seem that iSbhujwa has only just arrived, its practitioners are already fighting to keep the dance style alive. As Blessing Dlamini, front man of the Dobsonville iSbhujwa crew, Soulistic Fusion, says:
“In Dobsonville, iSbhujwa is rare. Our name sounds hip hop, but we’re a iSbhujwa crew. When they see us, they see iSbhujwa isn’t dead.”
And to keep it that way, these cats don’t sleep. If you want to make a name as a dancer, you need to be continually working on your routine. To that end, every week, Monday to Thursday, at exactly 4pm, Blessing Dlamini, Khulekane Nxumalo and Ntuthuze Ralana get together at Blessing’s mom’s house in Dobsonville and practice their moves for 2 hours. And they dance at “sessions” most Friday or Saturday nights. The practice process is simple: they kick things off with a freestyle. Each dancer is expected to bring some new moves to the session. “Whatever we like from each other, we combine it to make our thing.” Blessing explains.

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While Khulekane and Ntuthuze are still in school, (Grade 11 and 12 respectively) it’s up to Blessing to lock things down and lead the group. And this makes sense, considering the main inspiration and encouragement to pursue dance as a career comes from his father, Victor Dlamini.
“My dad, really he’s one heck of a dancer. You can ask these guys. He’s a pantsula dancer, you know, the golden oldies. When I grew up, the first thing I learnt was how to dance is’pantsula. Then I realised my true potential lies with iSbhujwa.”
“Blessings father is very supportive.” Khulekane cuts in. “Throughout our dancing careers, he tells us what to do and gives us advice. He guides us.”
“And what does your dad think?” I ask.
“My father died, 1989, but I live with my mom and she’s very supportive. Through every competition she pushes me to just go further. Go further, she says, there’s a path there for you!”
“In terms of inspiration. We always watch shows like America’s Best Dance Crew.” Blessing brings us back to the inspiration. “But while they showcase some good dancers and we can improvise those moves, we don’t want to stray too far away from our roots. Our genre is iSbhujwa, strictly.”
“Step up 3D.” Says Khulekane emphatically. “They’re showing their culture, which is hip hop. And just like them, we’re trying to show our culture, and create a career, which is iSbhujwa. So that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to bring iSbhujwa back.”

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“So where did iSbhujwa start?” I ask.
“Early 2000 or 2001.” Blessing states emphatically. “I don’t think anyone can claim it. A lot of individuals contributed to it. And then izikothane came along, that flamboyant lifestyle thing. We don’t subscribe to that, we just dance.”
“I don’t like izikothane.” Says Khulekane. “Many ambhujwa’s have crossed over to izikothane. We’re trying to bring it back. Many iSbhujwa crews get into izikothane, others become vandals. We just want to bring it back to the dance floor.”
“You know, we attend sessions most weekends.” Blessing explains. “Whenever a crew is hosting an event, we come there to showcase what we got. But it’s also important to watch other crews and see what they do. Check out the latest moves. Then we improvise.” He pauses. “iSbhujwa is indulged in by people who want to stand out. Trendsetters. I think that’s at the heart of amabhujwa. Either you stand out, or you stand outside. It’s not just a trend, it’s a way of life.”

While Blessing and Khulekane are talking the roots of iSbhujwa, Ntuthuze is busting his moves for the hungry eye of photographer, Tyrone. Flaring, flashing and sliding all over the pavement. So much so he’s attracted an audience and it’s turning into an improvised dance circle, at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon. You got to love Soweto.

Blessing looks up and smiles. “You know, we dance to house music. Mzansi house.” He explains. “But we compose our own tracks. So that we can move the way we want to. The dance informs the music. Not the other way round.”
“Ja, Dancing is not just…” Khulekani trails off watching Ntuthuze smiling and moving for the camera, and then comes back to the point. “I saw that there’s a gift that I can do, which is dancing.” He explains. “And through my dancing, I give out a message to people. Dancing is not just something you do in the township to pass the time. It can take you places. You can predict the future through dancing.”

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**Images © Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull.

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