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South Africa

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GGumboot dancing was originally a means of communication amongst miners who were forbidden from talking to one another.

More than a century ago, migrant workers came to the Witwatersrand area to work in the mines. While in the dark tunnels, mine bosses tried to keep order and quiet by forbidding conversation. Clad in gumboots to protect their feet from the fetid water, the miners created a tapping code to communicate with one another.

Above ground, these taps and smacks developed into elaborate dances that were performed during leisure time. Because many miners were from rural areas, they used the dances as a chance to dress up and express their cultural roots. 

Did You Know?
SSome of the moves were even developed in mock imitation of the way the mine operators themselves moved.

IInitially, the mine bosses banned the dances. But soon the mine bosses began to see the activity as positive. Competitions, gumboot dance troupes and shows all became part of the social life at the mines.

SStanding by, applauding, mine managers remained oblivious that the chest smacks, clicks, whistles and boot taps were often coded criticism about poor conditions. Today, people wear different versions of their ancestral skins – you will see vests with animal print patterns, and symbols of power tied to dancers’ wrists. Troupes can be found in many places, from local shopping centres to game lodges and city centres. For a dedicated show, head to Gold Reef City or the Victory Theatre.

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