As a former dancer, I remember when Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MID) came to Washington D.C. The details of their visit are vague, but I recall the awe of the rhythm and sound of South Africa’s traditional ‘Gumboot Dance’. This past April, I had the opportunity to speak to the current troupe of MID dancers.
History of dance in JHB
Aside from being a trendy hotspot for the youth of South Africa, Newtown, a stone’s throw from Braamfontein, was once hailed for its arts scene. Relics of the arts remain today, and if you know where to go, tourists – international and local alike – can indulge in them.
MID was founded by Syliva “Magogo” Glasser in 1978. In a time where many parts of South Africa were on fire, Glasser sought to further the reach of dance and performance art to all races. Today, with Mark Hawkins as Artistic Director, MID aims to teach performance and to build an audience interested in the arts. Hawkins goes as far to say that “dance makes a difference”; a sentiment I soon found interpreted differently by MID dancers.
Getting into dance
Getting to MID by 7:30 AM on a weekday morning, using public transportation from Sandton, was no small feat! MID was scheduled to perform at the American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ) that morning, so I tagged along for the show.
Muzi Shili, 40, is the Acting Manager for the dance troupe. He is both a Senior Dancer and Instructor from Thembisa. His dance career dates back to 1994, but he has been with MID since 2000. I must say he put me to shame with the warm up he led, because I was winded before things got even more intense!
For Muzi, “The most exciting part [of teaching dance] is that you are able to walk.” By this he means that every student who walks through the MID doors is allowed to grow into the dancer they wish to be one day. With over 20 years in dance, Muzi enjoys watching the smiles on his students’ faces as he passes his knowledge of Afrofusion, Contemporary and African Dance forms to new generations of dancers. In his opinion, “[dance] is a journey…an experience that we experience together.”
A road from Vosloorus
MID has been known to turn out renowned dancers over its lifetime. Oscar Buthelezi, 26, started dancing in 1998 and joined MID in 2010. When I arrived, I knew there was something familiar about him. Eventually I realized that he had been my instructor in 2013 when I visited MID the first time.
At AISJ, I had the privilege of watching him perform a duet, with Muzi, called “Road”. He has performed the piece in Germany, Ivory Coast, and around South Africa earning accolades like the Kurt Jooss Award in 2016. The Vosloorus native connects most to Pantsula, Gumboot, and Zulu dance, however he teaches the aforementioned as well as Afrofusion dance.
“Learning to love your craft and being disciplined for people to respect your craft” is part of the joy of being a professional dancer for Oscar.
Finding the courage to dance
For Eugene Mashiane, age 27 and a former soccer player, dance started in 2002. Hailing from Mpumalanga, Eugene didn’t necessarily find dance…dance found him. The earthly manifestation of which happened in 2011 when MID was scouting in his province. After auditioning the same year, Eugene started with MID in 2012.
As is seemingly common at MID, Eugene is well learned in multiple styles of dance; including Zulu dance, street dance, Pantsula, Gumboot, and Contemporary & Technical dance. He is both an instructor and a performer, toting performances on the Nolene Talk show in 2013 as one item on his laundry list of accomplishments.
Even with his success in the world of dance, his family has not necessarily been as receptive. As is the case for many creative artists, self explanation and expression to our families after choosing non-traditional career paths is difficult. Even with his parents being unable to see a performance of his, Eugene believes that through dance he can “become an inspiration to [others]” as his audience interprets his movements.
Candor and dance
“Discovery”, a piece by Eugene featuring Thabang Mollatse, 25, and Otsile Masemola, 26, won the ‘Best Piece’ Award at Dance Explosion in 2016. For Eugene, “You have to believe in what you’re doing. Dance heals…it’s like I’m having a conversation with dance. The minute I’m on stage I’m healing.”
Rorisang Lengoasa, a student at AISJ, is a member of ARTSCO, an AISJ student organization. They work on integrating their school into the arts. “To get people involved with the arts is difficult” he says, but he was proud to see his school’s commitment to the arts at their first annual Arts Fest.
Overall there is no better way to describe dance than to liken it to language. For Eugene, he found a voice that spoke to his soul through his body while creating “Discovery”. The confusion he felt in his life before its creation began to clear as the piece came into existence. Out of everything that the dancers and myself discussed, one thing stuck out most. “[In dance] you have to be honest.”
MID is offering free dance lessons on June 17, 2017 in honor of Youth Day! Consider attending a class and learning a new language in your weekend plans!