01 April 2011 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Dancing in the Drakensberg

The dancing and the drumming are unexpected on this Saturday evening in the Drakensberg. The mountains have been still and silent. Now they resound with the rhythm and movement of about 20 young Zulu dancers who, once a week, use the natural amphitheatre of the mountains that surround Giant’s Castle rest camp in the Central Drakensburg as their stage.

Their performances are not advertised, except by the insistent beating of their drums. Curious guests emerge from their chalets or return from their late-afternoon walks and gather around the dancers. They whirl, twist and leap, bringing their cultural narratives to life with skill and energy.

The group, “Isibuko Samahlube” is made up of young men between the ages of 12 and 30. They come from the community living around the central Drakensberg. The older men coach the younger men in the ways of their culture, with practices after school and weekly performances at this rest camp, and other resorts in the area, provided they can find and pay for transport.

Their performance lasts 45 minutes.  The dances are physically demanding and it’s an intense workout for the young men who perform with obvious enthusiasm. Their energy never flags. A little girl in the audience copies the moves of the dancers, a look of intense concentration on her face as she maintains eye contact with one of the young men. He smiles broadly back at her, the sweat pouring off his body. The rest of the audience is more restrained, but no less appreciative.

The performance is excellent and when a piece of paper from camp management is passed around, encouraging us to support this very talented group, it is easy to give generously. They dance for themselves, but for their community too and the money they raise is used to help out struggling households and individuals.

While the dancers cool down after their performance, and take questions from the audience, I speak briefly with Stanley Mchunu, their coordinator. He explains that dancing and singing is very much a part of the lifestyle of the Zulu people, and dance formations and movements tell stories and celebrate significant events in their lives and their history.

This troupe, one of the best Zulu dance groups in KwaZulu Natal, works with minimal resources and maximum pride. It’s a compelling combination. I ask if he knows what a privilege it is for us to watch them perform in this magnificent setting. “It’s a privilege to share our culture,” he says, “but we dance even when no one is watching.”

You can contact the group to arrange performance by calling Giant’s Castle restcamp, and asking for Stanley.

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