Raising the roof while shaking a hoof this Heritage Day

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One of the many beautiful things that unite us as South Africans is our love of South African dances; we take immense pleasure in shaking our booties to banging tunes.

Come what may this Heritage Day, make it your mission to share in tradition.

Whether kwaito, hip-hop, sakkie-sakkie or maskandi, one thing is for sure; our people are born with rhythm in their bones.

With different cultural groups instilling its unique practices and traditions – including dance – in its youth from a young age, expressing ourselves through dance is as natural as breathing and is a universal language that transcends race, ethnicity, verbal communication and socio-economic differences.

Remember how we all did the Diski Dance during the 2010 FIFA World Cup and we all waved our flags?

This Diski Dance, created by Wendy Ramokgadi out of a series of choreographed soccer moves that were named after different parts of the country, in addition to buzzing vuvuzelas, Shakira’s Waka Waka (Time for Africa) and K’NAAN’s Wavin’ Flag, weaved us into one spectacular multi-coloured tapestry.

This Heritage Day, as you experiment with different cultures’ cuisines, why not add a dash of cultural dancing to the mix?

Download some traditional music, throw in a few dress-up items and maybe a YouTube tutorial or two, and dance ‘til you drop!

To get you started, here is an overview of just a small handful of our most loved traditional South African dances.

Bayete inkosi!

As Heritage Day was adapted from Shaka Day with the dawn of our democracy in 1994, we thought it would be appropriate to open the dance floor with a couple of traditional Zulu dances.  


Ingoma is one of the purest remnants of Zulu tradition and is performed at transitional ceremonies like coming of age ceremonies, weddings, pre-hunt and pre-war periods.

It instils in young people a tradition of sharing experiences and solidarity through communal dance.

In its isizingili form, either girls or boys can perform the ingoma. Girls wear woollen skirts, are usually bare-chested and wear rattles made of seed pods around their ankles to accentuate the high kicks that are integral to the dance. Drums are not used in isizingili but chanting is an intrinsic aspect.

When boys and girls in harmony perform ingoma, it is called isishameni. Boys and girls dance together but not at the same time. Instead, they take turns to dance while the other group claps hands and vice versa.

Many “umlungu” on the dance floor try to emulate the high kick – perfected by our Zulu brothers – but only one has ever mastered it; the late and great Johnny Clegg.

Nicknamed the “white Zulu”, Clegg mastered not only the Zulu language, but also the maskandi guitar and isishameni dance styles.


zulu stick fighting
zulu stick fighting

Indlamu – The dance of warriors – is considered the touchstone of Zulu identity and remains untainted by Western influence. It involves the use of drums and wearing of full traditional regalia.

The steps are similar to that of ingoma but more precise in timing and posture, and showing off muscular strength and control of weapons with mock stabs at imaginary enemies are fundamental features.

Dancers make eye contact with the audience and various drums and whistles fill the air with accompanying sound.


Isicathamiya is an internationally known Zulu dance performed by men or boys positioned in a straight line or arc and is accompanied by balladic music. Lyrics address modern-day issues like AIDS, crime and migrant labour and symbolises life in rural Zululand and townships.

If you ever attend a Zulu wedding and see two opposing groups take turns trying to outdo each other in song and dance – much like dance battles seen on TV where two opposing groups dance it out for street cred and bragging rights – you are bearing witness to umBholoho.

It is a tradition that takes place at Zulu weddings and consists of special wedding songs and dances that channel mutual antagonism between the bride and groom’s families.

Tapping gumboots

gum boot dancing
gum boot dancing

When migrant workers came to the Witwatersrand to work on the mines more than a century ago, their bosses forbid talking as a way to maintain order and silence in the mine tunnels.

Wearing gumboots to protect their feet, workers gradually developed a tapping code to communicate covertly. Above ground, these communicative taps and smacks evolved into elaborate dances, performed during leisure times.

The gumboot dancing was initially banned but eventually, mine managers changed their minds and viewed it as a positive.

Mine managers cheered on the gumboot dance troupes, oblivious to the fact that some of the chest smacks, clicks, whistles and boot taps were coded criticisms of poor conditions on the mines.

Sokkie met my bokkie!

Sokkie is a type of “social ballroom dance” that originated from formal farm gatherings in the Afrikaner community and it is not uncommon for dancers to go barefoot or dance in socks.

Its trademark posture where partners straighten their lead arms while holding hands, earned it the nicknames “langarm” and “windsurfing”. Sokkie fuses elements of the two-step, waltz, barn dancing and America sock-hop and pretty much any music with a decent beat will do.

However, nothing gets “windsurfers” descending upon dance floor quite like Afrikaans sokkie “treffers” such as Kurt Darren’s Kaptein (Span die seile), Die Campbells’ Rooi Rok Bokkie and Snotkop’s Boerepompie.

Our rainbow nation is blessed with more South African dance styles than we can fit into one article, so we invite you to whip out your smartphones and do some research of your own.

You are guaranteed to discover a number of really interesting stories out there of what the various dances entail and the history behind it – often linked to our country’s colonial past.

cape minstrels

Ask Google about the Cape Minstrels (also known as Kaapse Klopse), traditional Xhosa dance styles like umngqungqu, umdudo and umguyo, or the many traditional Indian dance styles that are particularly prevalent in Durban.

Heritage day is also Braai Day.

A day we all celebrate our heritage with South Africa’s favourite past time, the good old braai.

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