MCDF’s self-organized public installation, screening and discussion event as part of their exchange with South London Gallery’s youth forum, Art Assassins. Photo: Langalibalele Mathuthu

Dance is also a form of knowledge: Rangoato Hlasane in conversation with Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion (MCDF)

Rangoato Hlasane and MCDF (Nqobile Khumalo, Neo Doctor Ncube, Wesley Hlongwane, Andile Nzuza, and Invention Ramaisa)

Who are Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion?

Nqobile Khumalo
Dance is a free and easy language, both for communication and expression. It allows me to use everyday gestures to communicate without the use of words. Its meaning is beyond that of physical movements; it can embody all the other emotions far better than words at times, simply because it is a visual language and the only lie it can tell is the message itself, if not portrayed from one’s true emotions.

Neo Doctor Ncube
It takes an athlete to dance but an artist to be a dancer. In dance there is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through me into action. And because there is only one me, this expression is unique and it’s hard to be blocked because when it is blocked it will be difficult for it to exist through any other medium. It will be lost. Dance is a language in art that defines who I am. This is how I communicate with my people; a few might understand and a few might not get what I try to portray. Lastly I quote: “Dance is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” Remember that!

Wesley Hlongwane
Wesley Hlongwane started dance in 2008. He has worked and performed with different artists who have pushed him and introduced to him to different techniques and skills. He started working with Keleketla! Library in 2010 with Nqobile Khumalo, Doctor Neo Ncube, Emma Ramashala, and Lerato Makopo under the guidance of Michael Shelton Machaya on a piece called “Movement Mandela.” From there he worked with The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative – an ongoing collaboration – as part of MCDF. Other collaborators include Nyaniso Dzedze, Wits School of Arts Fine Arts students (Ruru Rusike, Grace Mmabatho Mokalapa and Daniella Dagnin) and recently Lindiwe Matshikiza on her “Donkey Child” interdisciplinary production.

Andile Nzuza
I overstand [understand] dance as a talking spirit and respect its presence since it evokes my emotions to engage on another level of consciousness and wisdom of the cosmic energy. I was born as an artist who sings, dances, acts, and even does gymnastics.

I started professionally in Afrofusion and Contemporary dance when I was attending the company called Moving Into Dance Moiphatong in the open class program, obtaining a certificate for the year 2013. As a spiritual individual I dance for my ancestors to pass me enlightenment and wisdom.

Invention Tshibollo Ramaisa
Dance is so important to me because I can tell many stories by just using my own body. Every movement has its one meaning. I can dance different types of dance: Afrofusion, Pantsula, Hip-hop, and Contemporary. I am a dancer!

About Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion

Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion (MCDF) is an interdisciplinary art group that was formed in 2011 by youth members of the Keleketla! Library After School Program. Keleketla! Library is a nonprofit organization located at the heart of Joburg. The organization works with the youth, mainly school learners, using art as one of its mediums of education and information. Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion was formed to continue that which the founding members had learned; to grow and expand in dance and to find collaborations independent of facilitators; to explore creative movement in both physical theatre and outside. Our mission is to create a platform for young and aspiring artists to collaborate and put into practice their skills while learning and growing from each other.”

Nqobile Khumalo

Art in Life

Neo: As I was saying like; from other dance companies we realized that some of the pieces, the words [used in titles of works] are just something you can’t think of like, Four Seasons, Shades, Five Hats. You think to yourself ok, what is it? What’s going on? What about these Five Hats, what’s the Shades? You know? So for us, the two pieces that we are grooming right now, they have a message.

Andile: We are not just doing it…

Neo: With our dance piece Secrets of the Streets, people think a lot around the secrets that are around the streets. Religion is something that we are working with; something that’s actually around us.

Andile: The most complex one!

Ra: …and Joburg is full of churches, charismatic churches but religion goes beyond the church…

Neo: That’s why, as Invention mentioned, we are very unique. ‘Cos some pieces that we have watched in dance, they don’t include drama and singing. But it’s mostly dance and movement.

Andile: Another thing; we don’t want to be metaphorical; we are straight to the point.

Neo: We don’t want to make things complicated nor leave the audience confused.

Ra: How do you manage to bring [that sense of] disbelief, the newness? Something that people have not seen before, yet it has a message. It’s so difficult.

Andile: Yes, it is difficult but as a collective we need to sit down and work with our brains. And go to the street and give [or do] the underground thing. As I have mentioned, theatre is underground [neither known nor supported by my people] not everyone has been to the theatre. I would mention: “I was at the theatre” and people would say: “What’s that?” But I respect theatre; it has groomed us as a collective. So we need to show the streets how theatre works, we need to be more futuristic in our dance, to indulge in the streets but stick on theatre. When we are performing to the streets, it feels like theatre.

Invention: It’s all about creativity, we all have different views, and we can make something new.

MCDF perform at Skaftien #3, Makhwapheni, Stevenson gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 February 2013. Photo: Tawedzerwa Zhou

Dancing to Other Tunes

Ra: And then you are interdisciplinary; you are combining all these different kinds of things. During the “listening party” you had installations in the space, on the walls, the floor, and then music. Let’s speak a little about music, or sound, its role? And silence, also. How do you arrive at sounds; what kinds of sounds speak to Mysterious Creatures?

Neo: To be honest, not well known music. It’s underground…

Andile: When you listen to music and you feel your soul evoking your body, I don’t know how, but you feel your soul speaking to you like; hey baba, listen to this… do this! Because you start from not doing, you listen. Music that says; think and do! That music is powerful, and I call it soul music.

Invention: We focus more on nature; rain, trees and sounds of nature.

Wesley: But mostly, African music and instruments.

Andile: Another thing, we need to play our own music. We have got a powerful percussionist, you know.


Ra: As you know that here at Keleketla! we are in a difficult position with regard to space, but also related, funding of projects. As young Africans today in a city where it’s difficult to find space and funding, what is the future of the arts?

Andile: This space problem and Keleketla! moving from the Drill Hall1; it’s very stressful and not good for our mind stimuli. We will end up saying, we are gonna perform and make pieces this and that but with no clarity to anyone. It is an accommodating space for us, you know. For us as dancers and for Keleketla! as a project; there is no other library like this to go to in Johannesburg. The move is depriving, taking our art from us. We don’t want that. This is a heritage site. It is a place of books, of learning; kids need to learn. Read and write. Mind stimuli. Thinking whatsoever. So, Keleketla!…

Wesley: It’s a unique…

Andile: Keleketla! must not move from the Drill Hall, it’s unique. And as amajita [guys] as a collective in the long run we see our own theatre company. We would want to see how we [MCDF] and Keleketla! could work hand in hand; Keleketla! brings kids to the library. Kids come to the library looking for information. Doing their thing – homework. After that at a certain time they go to dance, you know? As Keleketla! recruits the kids, we groom. For research, they would go to Keleketla! Library to bring back a dance piece. The teacher says “Go and research this,” probably the dance piece is about culture; yes, we know our cultures but we never go deep. You know, hence books are there. I don’t know how we can do it, but Keleketla! Library must not move from here… It’s an enlightenment source to be in Johannesburg. The only library that does the whole thing, from interdisciplinary to collective; it’s beyond other libraries. We must not move here, no! Hence, I’ve mentioned it’s a heritage site. We need to remember those Treason Trial members. We need to know…

Invention: As you all know, Wesley and Doctor [Neo] it’s like it’s their own place, their home, we call it home here…

Wesley: I think, Keleketla! Library is like a source, to us of grooming a younger generation. That generation that we are grooming, it’s going to turn into our next leaders, our next dance teachers and all that you know. ‘Cos when they come here they read books; they get more knowledge, while we teach them dance that’s more knowledge. So we are like training our future…

Wesley: Choreographers.

Andile: Our future artists.

Wesley: Yes.

Invention: Dance makes them come to relax; it’s like an exercise. But Keleketla! Library must not move from here… I don’t know how, but we need to…

Neo: We shall do a flash mob…!

Andile: We need to bring everyone together; mina [me] as an individual I would like to have a board meeting of all the Keleketla! members. We as dancers being introduced to members… there is a strategy… I wouldn’t know, but… We need to find a strategy.

The Secrets of the Streets: By Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion

The Secrets of the Streets is a project aimed at mass awareness towards homelessness throughout the world. Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion is based at the heart of the “City of Gold,” a city that attracts job seekers from all over Africa. Due to overcrowding leading to misfortunes, people end up seeking residence on the streets, a reality that may directly or indirectly affect all citizens. In this project, MCDF challenges and explores public views and opinions towards homeless people and highlights the skills and talents that homeless individuals possess, skills that we barely ever acknowledge. Through dressing up as homeless people, we managed to do practical research, to experience the world from a homeless person’s shoes. The project highlights some of the many flaws of society, addresses social issues like unemployment and poverty. This dance piece is not by any chance a summary of who we are or a representation of life in Joburg; it is simply a theatrical portrayal of life in the streets. A person is a person regardless of their social or economic status.

Os segredos das ruas: Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion
Choreography: Invention Ramaisa with MCDF
Performed by: MCDF
Video: Rangoato Hlasane
Editing: Malose Malahlela
Approx. 4:00

The context and the streets (approx 2:58)

A brief snapshot of the performance (approx 2:33)

Each One Teach One

Invention: As I was saying, it was hard but if you have a passion, it becomes simpler.
We all started there, were struggling to stretch our body; it was hard but we are all getting there. Through teaching, we learn how people get to art; get to know more about how people learn and [be] able to absorb what you give. Actually, we learn as dancers because there are some students who are brilliant in dancing.

Andile: It’s all about learning…

Neo: Adding to that… it just brings us back to the Keleketla! After School Program [a few years back]. We were once there; we were a lot, very confused whether it’s this or that we wanna do… or what?

Andile: It was a full house!

Neo: Yeah it was a full house… we were there a lot… but then as time went by… I saw that there are a few people who are very interested in this and they love it. Then when there were shows I only saw specific people who were always there to perform and you could see that they are building up their technique, their physique. Even the choreographer would always smile when we were performing ‘cos we would be nervous but at the same time enjoy the performance. Now we are teaching at Freedom College (a Keleketla! partner school). For now we have just observed a few that we could see that they are really into this. Some they are just there but others want to learn more.

Andile: Some they are not sure…

Neo: …just the way we were. But, I know that as time goes by they are gonna actually see. And let’s hope they won’t realize it too late when – maybe their friends out there, doing what we are doing. Even us, the people that we started wish they were the way we are now. Unfortunately they took the other direction. But at the same time that teaches us that; appreciate something whilst it’s still there.

Invention: As we are teaching, there are difficulties that we face; some students knock at the door and you have to chase them away. It improves our teaching as a young student, growing.

Ra: How do you deal with that? Informal teaching? Dealing with teenage behaviors, etc.?

Andile: We just calm down, you can’t be harsh with teenagers ‘cos they will end up clapping [slapping] you.

Neo: We were once there… some of them end up actually concentrating and start watching, probably thinking: “What are they actually doing? Maybe I could learn one or two.” Some would criticize but some… We could see ‘cos some would be watching as we are teaching others. It seems that some are afraid of criticism, peer pressure issues. Most of the students are girls; guys they don’t want to, it’s not that they don’t want to, but due to the culture in the school some fear criticism, whatsoever.

We go there ‘cos we know Wednesdays are free periods and people go for sports; some may come to our class to use it as a scapegoat (an excuse to miss sports) but some may ‘cos they know that “I wanna do art, since I’m not a sporty person or whatsoever.” I’ve seen that most would run into our class when they see a teacher coming around the corridor. The first day we went there I think we had about a total of six students, but every Wednesday it’s growing – we see more newcomers and they are really into this thing. We are just taking it from the bottom to the top.

Invention: We went to Freedom College to create something that would stay there and they will recognize when the time goes by.

Neo: We actually have to go to different schools, to leave that mark. And they would be like “the Creatures were here, and they left this.” As we move we are gonna also leave it for others. So it has to be a growing thing just like Keleketla!, you see?

Invention: The reason for the outreach at Freedom College is because some schools don’t have art; that is visual art, dramatic art, dance. So we saw an opportunity to educate young kids to learn more about dance.

Neo: It seems like it’s only in the suburbs where you can find art studies and one can pursue it as a career. Mostly the schools around the city are more focused on sport. Some art is there for specific things. I understand that most schools have a choir and drama at times. And when it comes to dance there is only traditional, so we bring something different. We bring contemporary and Afrofusion.

MCDF’s self-organized public installation, screening and discussion event as part of their exchange with South London Gallery’s youth forum, Art Assassins. Photo: Langalibalele Mathuthu

If You Can Walk You Can Dance

Group: They are used to street dance. Kwaito. Pantsula.2

Ra: Can you speak a bit about that? I think that’s important. What is the distinction between street art; street dance so to speak – your pantsula, bhujwa3, hiphop vs. your contemporary/Afrofusion. What do we learn from both?

Andile: You know, I always push this statement that dance is a talking spirit. Reason being, as a human being you have the body, the soul and the spirit whereby the soul knows everything, the soul is Jah himself. So the spirit connects you with your soul. Therefore, we as dancers… there is a phrase I read from a book that stipulates that all dancers are high-spirited individuals.

First of all contemporary Afrofusion is not a child’s play, we are telling stories; it’s a theatre rhythmic of dance. That’s why we need specific choreography in which you are given a wide space. We need to see that technique of your Afrofusion; we need that technique of (your) contemporary. As a dance that intrigues, it captivates. Hence, when we are doing the outreach at Freedom College, there were those looking through windows, disciplined and intrigued. They want to see this talking spirit. They are wondering; what are they saying? You know? Their response is by watching and calming down; all that knocking on doors gone.

Ra: That’s interesting, responds to the question of how you deal with teenage behaviors.

Neo: We are trying to bring something different at Freedom College. They thought we were there to teach something that’s common. Some were actually even confused.

Andile: It is also confusing. Afrofusion is all about Africa, so when you’re doing these so-called western dances, contemporary and ballet as a man or as a male, people think you are feminine. They think you are gay.

Wesley: All dance requires discipline of muscles. How you treat them, what do you give them so that you can prevent cramps, etc.

Andile: In street dance there is no attention to muscles and body care. Lack of discipline, it tends to be about yourself, the ghetto and all that.

Invention: Basically to me these genres are the same, but it’s all ‘bout knowing the body and the movement. It is handwork, flow, rhythm, and movement.

Andile: In pantsula footwork is important, amazing magic thing, stepping; if you don’t know your steps you are lost.

Invention: We all know these genres, pantsula, kwasa4, etc.

Neo: Eclectic; we do everything.

Ra: Speaking about spirits and dance being a talking spirit; what is the responsibility of the dancer to the viewer?

Andile: The environment deals with spirit; our environment deals with spirit, good and evil spirit; how do we feed our spirits as individuals? So you gotta be careful when you speak about spirits. Competition in dance is evil spirit; it is not from within; dancing is unity. Dance is about sharing; unison, solidarity. We need to be in communion.

Invention: Spirituality, it’s like a church, there is a congregation and a pastor. As a dancer you are like a pastor. It is up to the audience to take it or leave it. The spirit is energy; if there is a quarrel between two of the members the performance is affected.

Andile: Dance is also a form of knowledge; we are sharing knowledge with each other and with the audience.

1 Drill Hall is home to Keleketla! Library. Built on the ruins of a “native prison” in 1904 as a military base buttressing British colonial power after the Anglo-Boer War, the Drill Hall was involved in the marshalling of forces in both World Wars and the quelling of civil unrest and various miners’ strikes in the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1956 it was turned into a courtroom for the Treason Trials. In the 1970s and 80s, it served as an important site for the conscription of young white men into active duty in the border wars and the suppression of internal resistance to Apartheid. Abandoned by the Apartheid military in the early 1990s, it was invaded by squatters, leading to two fires and a number of fatalities. In 2002-2004 the Drill Hall was redeveloped as a heritage site through the efforts of the City of Johannesburg. While the ambitions of the city are a story for another day, it is on these layered grounds that a “library” was founded, and evolves on a daily basis.

2 Pantsula is an extremely popular dance style dating back from the 1950s, evolving with popular music of the time. Because of its popular appeal (including negative connotations of gangsterism) Pantsula is wrongly dismissed. Pantsula’s contemporary dress code privileges original work-wear such as Dickies, Samson, Alaska, and Converse All-Star. There are lots of pantsula videos on YouTube, one of which is very interesting in its comparison to Beyonce’s “Run the World” inspiration.

3 Bhujwa is one of the newer dance styles characterized by a dress code of skinny jeans and the coolest fashion tops. Literally borrowed from the term “bourgeois”, taste of clothes is upper level and terms like “metrosexual” are associated with the bhujwa style as well as upwardly mobility. Bhujwa is usually criticized for senseless excess and lack of content and authenticity.

4 Kwasa [Kwasa Kwasa] is a dance rhythm originating in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the 1970s and made popular by musicians such as Kanda Bongo Man and closely linked to Soukous music. Kwasa gained currency in South Africa after the Kwaito musician adapted the dance move with his 1997 release “Kwasa Kwasa.”