Gumboot Dance

Gumboot Dance, as the name implies, is a dance performed in gumboots. The name gumboot ensues from the environment where it finds its roots. Gumboot Dance developed from the mines of Witwatersrand in South Africa, from the miners who acquired a necessary and almost only means of communication.

Gumboot Dance is, therefore, a result of the first tap on a gumboot by a miner to another, probably, to signal the oncoming of a strict executive who feared that, by the existence of communication, the miners would grow in solidarity and give birth to an uprising (“People like me”, 2004).

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Gumboot Dance is hence, as the following paragraphs illustrate, a product of diversity.

This is because the dance was an art of creativity by miners to find a way to expresses themselves between each other. The mine itself was composed of a large group of workers who came from different ethnic groups, spoke different languages and belonged to different cultures. With such differences, came the need of one language that consolidated all, which later became the Gumboot Dance.

In the process of language formation and with the strictness of the mine executives to ensure a thoroughly split personnel, language forming is almost impossible to assign to one individual as the rest of the miners may not get to understand the meaning. This means that language formation was an opportunistic art to mock the gait of a task man or oppressive executive. It developed with individual thought on a specific matter or a movement to signal something that everyone else came to learn to use when they wanted to send a similar message. Therefore, as a result, more signs arose and the ‘Morse code’ became more complex through individual contribution to form the Gumboot Dance.

From this coded language arose the dance. The miners used this movement to form unique dances that they used to entertain each other. The Gumboot Dance consists of percussive sounds and is extremely physical. It uses the body as a musical instrument in both acoustic purposes and dramatization. This movements and sounds are borrowed, as the dancers do, from the richness and complexity of South African culture (Scharges, 2012).

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Other than being formed by a diverse people, the dance in itself is not performed by one but by many dancers. In synchrony or not, for a known purpose, each dancer contributes to dance in a special way to form a collective effort. It does not restrict itself to a certain group of people but instead opens up to all. In this nature, it engraves in itself diversity.

Gumboot Dance did not stop at traditional levels. It forms a part of modern South Africa and other parts of the world. It is used by both local musicians, like the White Zulu and Johnny Clegg, as well as international musicians, like Paul Simon, not only in shows but also as part of African folk routines. Gumboot dancing troupes have also emerged mushrooming to infiltrate the tourism sector. These wide groups of personalities propel the production and growth of the Gumboot Dance as a product of diversity from people of different identities and descent.

It is said that in every race, the person who was the second was remembered less than the winner. In this light, the contribution thought in a negative way for that matter. This resulted in  oppression of the miners by denying them freedom of expression, opting to give the miners wellingtons rather than fix the drainage shafts and restricting their movement by use of ankle chains. This brutality formed the necessity required for the creation of the coded language that later, through the management’s ignorance, grew into a dance that they promoted. It is said that the executives did not understand the chants and languages used and, therefore, invited miners to entertain guests in their own mockery.

The dance has received both local and international acceptance. It is used, listened to and watched by people from all social classes. This may be argued to be the basis of its existence, but  it is true that every day that passes, the dance is born anew as it is enriched by new artistic styles. It is also true that, with this development, the dance is produced anew and is, in fact, in a continuous process of production in that the dance a century ago had distinct differences and will have more differences with the one of the century to come. Thus, these different classes are in an unconscious or, perhaps, conscious process of production.

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Gumboot dance cannot be said to belong to a certain group of people. It is neither African nor western. It is neither urban nor rural. It does not belong to a religion. The gumboot dance has undergone the gradual process of growth and refinement, yet it is not ignorant of its past and origins. It can be used crude or refined. In this journey, it has been spared the burden of differentiation and enjoyed the custody of many homes. In this very journey, it becomes a ‘rainbow’ dance (Muller, 2004).

Further emphasis and illustration withheld the conclusion that the Gumboot Dance is a product of diversity. The gumboot Dance was formed by diversity and with it remains.

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