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EWC participants learn a unique form of communication
Do you know what gumboots dancing is? Our Arts & Culture participants didn’t - until they met two young and dynamic Gumboots teachers, Just Aïssi and Shipo Mdlela.
February is Black History Month and EWC, through Canada’s Department of Multiculturalism, invited teachers Just and Shipo to introduce the participants to this unique South African dance form, where rhythm is the language.
Gumboots dancing originated in the gold mines of South Africa during the oppressive Apartheid Pass Laws. At that time, the movement of mine workers was restricted, resulting in long separations from their families. Working conditions were horrendous. The miners worked in almost total darkness, chained to their work stations and forbidden to speak to each other. The floors of the mines were often flooded. Workers were provided with gumboots (Wellingtons), which was a cheaper solution than attempting to drain the mines.
Because they were forbidden to talk, the workers developed a unique means of communication, slapping their boots, stamping their feet and rattling their ankle chains, sending messages to each other in the darkness. From this, the tradition of gumboots dancing was born. Today, it is a popular art form performed worldwide to both entertain and to pass on South African history and lore to new generations and other cultures around the world.
As for our own participants, now they can demonstrate a few steps and speak more knowledgeably about the origins of gumboots dancing. And given the energy and enthusiasm they exhibited during their class, don’t be surprised to see some of them back at their schools, wearing brightly coloured rubber boots and showing off their new dance steps to their friends.