Trust your feet. Follow the beat. This is the power of pantsula
Jarrel Mathebula’s takkies are pristine, but they won’t stay like that for long. The music starts and his feet kick up dust in the Tembisa taxi rank. With the pantsula dancers flanking him, he performs a perfectly choreographed set. Each move is infused with energy, impact, and surprising grace. Their fancy footwork does more than just entertain passersby; it brings them hope when nothing else remains. “Sometimes in communities like mine, the only thing people know is anger and pain,” Mathebula says. This is their escape.
Like many members of the dance crew, Mathebula found pantsula when he needed it most. “My mother and brother were victims of their circumstances and often took it out on me,” Mathebula says. So he’d sneak out every night, escaping to bars and clubs to listen to music. Rather than falling into a spiral of destruction, Mathebula started dancing. Not only did he like moving his feet to the beat, he was a natural. The longer he spent in the company of other dancers, the more he realised that this could be something greater than a distraction.
Mathebula founded the Indigenous Dance Academy in 2005 to give others the same opportunity to find their purpose. In the process of perfecting their pantsula moves, the members have grown closer. “Many dancers from the academy came from bad backgrounds, so we relate,” Mathebula says. “We’re a family.” Being surrounded by a group who motivate and value each other has freed them to aspire for more – and achieve it. “I feel like I can be anything I want to be and not be judged for it,” Mathebula says. Today, it’s not just his heart that Mathebula is following, but his feet. With the right crew, we can all find the support we need.