Gumboot, a form of African dance, gives new meaning to the term “underground movement.” The expressive, rhythmic articulations performed by dancers wearing rubber boots evolved out of the codified foot tapping used by South African gold miners, forcibly prohibited from conversing, to communicate with one another more than a century ago. Today, the floor-pounding choreography can be seen on the streets and plazas of Johannesburg and Cape Town — and this Sunday at LIU’s Tilles Center as part of a festival celebrating the nation’s homegrown dance traditions.
In contrast to Gumboot, the syncopated, fast-stepping Pantsula style, which will also be presented on the Tilles stage, evolved from African life above ground. An expression of urban street culture, the popping-and-locking dance moves have been more than an entertaining art form, but also a vehicle through which to demonstrate political resistance, as during apartheid, and spread social awareness on issues such as AIDS. The technique and intent of Pantsula are strongly connected to American hip-hop and break-dance, spurred by the release in the mid-’80s of the film “Beat Street,” which chronicles the emergence of the genres on the New York scene.
“Besides being a voice of the youth advocating change,” notes Sello Reuben Modiga, who founded the festival’s Real Actions troupe in 1992, “the Pantsula groups provide a sense of belonging and help the dancers stay away from crime and drugs since they are spending most of their time in the rehearsal space. Practitioners of both Pantsula and hip-hop come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Each week the talented dancers, many of whom joined the ensembles as teenagers living in the townships outside Johannesburg, dedicate endless hours to their art. Besides performing their pulsating, high-energy footwork at international venues, the Real Actions members also engage locally in competitive battles with other crews, disseminating the Pantsula culture — its trendy street fashion and attitude — to the rhythms of pop, techno and deep house music.
Like the personal narratives of the Pantsula dancers, “Stimela, the Gumboot Musical,” which opens the Tilles festival, tells of the quest of rural African men searching for a better life. Although Modiga and the Gumboot Musical’s writer and director, Thapelo Gordon Motloung, are longtime acquaintances, their troupes only became associated in 2015, when both ensembles were invited to showcase their uniquely South African performance styles in the United States.
“We tell stories through our dance, through classical renditions,” says Modiga of their venture, “and we create our own beats.”
WHAT Festival of South African Dance
WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Sunday, Tilles Center, LIU Post, Brookville
INFO $44-$54; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
A musical ‘Journey’
Music, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted, is a universal language, and “Journey West” literally tracks its migration across the globe, from the complex percussion-driven rhythms of the Middle East to the indigenous melodies of Eastern and Western Europe to American interpretations and original trends. It also explores factors influencing the carrying of tunes across cultures. The diverse program at Adelphi’s Performing Arts Center offers up regional visuals and instrument demos as instructive accompaniments to the ethnic songs. The performance is sure to be a hit with its audience, whether the music transports members to another world or brings them back home.
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Friday, Adelphi Performing Arts Center, 1 South Ave., Garden City
INFO $5-$30; 516-877-4000, pac.adelphi.edu