Lou, Cosi and I enjoying our traditional dancing lesson. Photo Credit: Bongekile Mhlanga
Amazwi recently participated in a three-day local Sustainable Living Festival. On the last day, we sat outside, having long given up on expecting the large crowds predicted. Despite the small numbers, it was a pleasant change, with multiple performances in the open grassy area.
Suddenly drums started beating, and the man we’d seen dressed in traditional African skins for the past few days appeared in the circle, flanked by a group of young men dressed the same way. They started to dance, stamping their feet and waving their arms like traditional warriors. I tapped my feet to the beat, enjoying the show. The dancers then asked for people in the crowd to come and join them.
The journalists shouted, “Lou! Lou!” and tried to push him forward.
“I’ll only go if Cosi goes,” he said, smiling.
Cosi shook her head, a horrified expression on her face. The dancers heard the commotion and promptly came over. They dragged Lou and Cosi up, and since I was sitting behind her, they pulled me into the circle as well. We stood in a row and attempted to follow their steps as they danced.
I was enjoying the process, though aware that I didn’t have their gift of natural rhythm. Next they decided that each person would dance a solo. They tried to push me forward, but I resisted. I had no idea what to do up there by myself. The young man beside me took my arm and we went forward together.
I tried to follow his moves, laughing, feeling my cheeks going red. I was grateful for my sunglasses. We were soon back in line.
When it was Cosi’s turn, she took full advantage. Tall and strong in her bright green T-shirt, jeans clinging to her curves, hoop earrings bouncing, she swayed her hips, then turned around and waved her bottom at the crowd. A few minutes later, it was over.
Flushed and lighthearted, we returned to our seats.
“Shake it, Danny!” Thandi cried. “You can really move it.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“No, you dance really well,” she replied.
I thought about how much I like the rhythm of the traditional dancing, and how the movements seem to come more instinctually than other kinds of dancing. It must be in my blood, I thought, the rhythm of Africa inside me.
They started singing Shosholoza, and I was reminded of the tour I went on last year. We were in Swaziland watching dancers dressed in traditional clothes sing this song.
Meaning “push forward” in Zulu, Shosholoza was historically sung by migrant workers and a symbol of black South Africans’ political status during apartheid. People started dancing, holding onto each other in a line that snaked across the stage.
Our African guide was near the front of the procession. Members of the audience left the steps where they were sitting to participate. A few minutes later, our white guide from Johannesburg joined in. Instead of going to the back of the line, he jumped in behind his friend. My heart rose with joy. I had hope that peace could be found by diverse people connecting as equals, as humans.?
I think of Amazwi’s journalists and how they have each touched me in different ways. Bongi’s bubbly laugh and smiling eyes. Her take-no-shit attitude that’s covering up a deep sensitivity.
Linky’s softness; her mischievous smile showing a single gold tooth; the earnest way she works. Cosi’s goodness; her cheerful “Danielo!” every morning; the way she gently brushed my fringe out of my eyes when we were practicing her reading together.
Lydia’s arm around me the day they told us how much they appreciate what we are doing; her gentle voice and warm smile. Thandi’s salutation of “Dee Dee!” and how she turns every conversation into something amusing with all of her questions; the serious way she tips her head slightly as she listens to my editing comments.
Even though my grandparents were not politically active during the apartheid era, my grandfather spent many years working as a doctor in Soweto. His compassionate and respectful manner made him popular, and there were always long lines of people waiting to see “Doctor Number One.”
Like my grandfather, I may not have stood up at the protest, but I can stand up for a dance or two. I can stand up to greet the women every morning when they arrive at the office. I can stand up to walk with them to the gate in the afternoon. I can stand by them through their personal and professional journeys. And maybe it’s through these actions I can truly make my own statement.