You don’t need to spend too much time in tourist spots like Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront to witness a dance truly unique to South Africa—that of the gumboot. Originally conceived by black South African miners as an alternative to drumming, which was prohibited by authorities, the dance consists of a group of guys dressed in Wellington boots, often embellished with bells, stomping on the ground rhythmically.
Interestingly enough, the dance was originally intended to be a communication tool. Miners were not only prohibited from drumming—they were prohibited from talking altogether in some cases. Combine that with the dark, damp conditions in which they often had to work, and the sound of the stomping basically served as a code intended for someone nearby. As for the boots, they just happened to be what the miners wore, who often stood in knee-deep water while working.
An important part of South Africa’s cultural history, the gumboot dance is still seen frequently throughout the country, and also taught in some schools. While it certainly draws inspiration from other African dances featuring polyrhythm and body articulation, it is truly a South African art. Outside of the country, you can see traces of the gumboot dance’s influence in the step shows popularized by fraternities and sororities in the United States and beyond. But as nothing quite compares to the original, enjoy the video below!
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