Rooted back in the dark gold mine tunnels of South Africa more than a century ago, gumboot dancing has come full circle. Initially a codified tap used by black miners deprived of conversation, gumboot dancing today is one of the most expressive South African dance genres.

Did you know?

During the mining strike of 1946, that led to the formation of the African Mine Workers’ Union, a precursor to South Africa’s powerful labour movement, miners communicated a secret code by tapping their gumboots.

In South Africa gumboot dancing has a seductive magnetism synonymous with the country’s mining culture, but few people know of the hidden meaning and history of this infectious dance tradition.

The dance form came of age in the gold mines during the last decades of the 19thcentury. It stemmed from a code that mine workers devised among themselves because of the repressive ban on talking enforced by mine bosses.

Kitted out in Wellington boots to fight skin diseases caused by the foetid water flooding mine tunnels, the 'muzzled' miners discovered they could communicate with one another through coded slaps on their boots and bare chests.

Also prevented by bosses from wearing their traditional dress in the mining compounds, which further estranged the miners from their rural roots, the migrant workers from diverse, ethnic backgrounds found common ground in an extended gumboot patois.

Enter gumboot dancing. Initially, mine bosses banned it outright, but eventually its qualities as an uplifting social activity, unlike the potentially destructive effects of alcohol, were acknowledged and even encouraged.

Some mines fostered the formation of gumboot dance troupes and organised gumboot dancing competitions that they attended. Standing by, applauding the by-product artistry of their workers, for decades mine managers remained oblivious that the dancing they so appreciated was often coded criticism of poor conditions, bad pay, and the bigotry of white bosses.

Today South African gumboot dancing stands alone as one of the most singularly unique dance expressions.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Tel: +27 (0)861 915 8000

Gold Reef City
Tel: +27 (0)11 248 8986

How to get here

For impromptu gumboot dancing displays, head over to Johannesburg's heyday amusement park, themed on the halcyon gold-era. Gold Reef City is located just south of the city centre, easily accessible by car.

Around the area

Head over to the iconic Apartheid Museum, it's a stone's throw away.

Get around

Take a taxi cab. Ask your B&B or hotel concierge to call for one.

What will it cost

About R200 for an all-access ticket to Gold Reef city, food and drinks excluded. A ticket to Umoja at Joburg's Victory Theatre will cost about R150. Check your newspaper for show listings.

Length of stay

A whole day will allow you to explore all of Gold Reef City's nooks and crannies, and lots of rousing gumboot dancing displays. Include a few hours for the theatre, best in the evening.

What to pack

Sunscreen, and comfortable trainers for Gold Reef City. A jumper for wintry days.

Where to stay

Choose from a myriad B&Bs, hotels and guesthouses in Johannesburg. There's one to suit all pockets. Nostalgia buffs would enjoy Gold Reef City's period-style Protea hotel. You'll feel yourself transported back to the gold-digging days of yore.

What to eat

Gold Reef City has several dining options, from fast food outlets, to sit-down affairs, and even boerewors (spicy sausage) rolls on-the-go – there's something for all palates and wallets. The Victory Theatre has an on-site restaurant which serves excellent pizzas.

What's happening

When you've had your fill of gumboot dancing, catch a thrill on the rides in Gold Reef City's amusement park, or try your hand at the tables in the world-class casino.

Best buys

While you're checking out the gumboot dancers, be sure to take a gold mining tour which offers a fascinating glimpse into a miner's working conditions.

Related articles