Fall 2021 In Dance

Back and forth, I have moved between learning and unlearning

SEEKING VOICE I boarding, who didn’t want to allow me a pass out to per- form at the Elizabeth Sned- don Theatre when my dance teacher had arranged for us to be part of a show that featured studios from around the city. I think that was the first time I had ever fought for what I really wanted, and won. St Mary’s offered a wide range of extramu- ral activities from music, ballet, and Spanish dancing to squash, gymnas- tics, and diving. Modern dance was the only thing I did religiously—I never missed a class in nine years. Winning my first significant fight for my freedom to express myself through dance gave me the power to stand up for what I wanted and unleashed my voice. At the university currently known as Rhodes, I discovered physical the- atre and contemporary dance. I loved how it encouraged individuality and, at first, I was surprised that people remember in high school fighting with the head of without dance backgrounds were allowed to participate. I was soon asked to train and perform with the resident dance company, The First Physical Theatre Company, becom- ing one of the youngest student per- formers to be allowed in the com- pany back then. We learned and used various techniques like Horton, Gra- ham, and Laban. I never really won- dered about what other dance forms existed outside the western canon I had been exposed to. It’s only more recently that I remember once, whilst

less than 10km from my home. Upon being dropped off for the first time at nine years old, my then wid- owed mother looked me straight in the eyes and commanded me to speak English and read as much as I could, before hugging me good- bye that summer afternoon. She had to put me into the boarding pro- gram because the only way she could afford the fees was if she took on extra work. Working night shifts at the hospital and moonlighting as an occupational nurse at various plants and factories during weekdays, I only saw my mother during holidays or mandatory half terms for the next ten years. She only got a full night’s rest every second week and on week- ends for the duration of those ten years. Understanding her determi- nation to give me the best education she couldn’t afford, I was determined not to let her sacrifices go to waste. I was the only Black girl in my class and the youngest Black kid in boarding when I started at St. Mary’s. It was a rule that no ver- nacular languages were to be spo- ken on school grounds. I made friends with the youngest boarder, a white girl from Zululand, whose parents would sometimes take me home with them on the weekends. I learned to ride bikes and horses on their rose and sugar cane farm. She introduced me to modern dance, which would become a place of solace for me, the dance studio one of the only places where I felt fully comfortable, where I didn’t have to think, I could just do, and my body did, with ease.

still at school, my aunt asking if I wanted to learn the dances that izin- tombi zakwaZulu (young Zulu maid- ens) learned. To her face, I politely declined; I was a St. Mary’s girl after all. Privately I scoffed, thinking, what would I do with that? Hav- ing had limited to no contact for so many years with any of my indig- enous cultures, I didn’t understand the value or opportunity I was being offered. Recently, in my return to academic study at the University of KwaZulu -Natal, and in the process of trying to decolonize my mind through acknowl- edging, questioning, and unlearning my perspective on life and education, I have begun to consider both my dance and verbal language lineages. In a similar way that English is my go-to language through conditioning, although it is neither my mother’s nor my father’s tongue, modern/ contemporary dance are my go-to vocabularies. It’s a lot easier to identify the verbal disparity, but I find myself struggling to determine my true dance language. I express myself in certain ways based on the rules and limita- tions of each language. As Frantz Fanon (1952) writes, “To speak means to be in a posi- tion to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to sup- port the weight of a civilisation” (Fanon, 1952: 17-18).

SOUNDS OF MY YOUTH A lthough I’m an only child, my home was always full. Aun- ties, cousins, and family friends who had come seeking shelter from less favourable inland parts of South Africa, or to work or study in Durban, often stayed with us as they found their feet. As a result there were many tongues spoken in our home. My mother was from Kimber- ley in the Northern Cape, approxi- mately 800 km west of Durban. The Northern Cape is where the original languages of the ta, Khoi and San people were spoken in their various dialects, eventually mixed with the languages of the migrating Nguni

father spoke five languages. I remember as a small child my parents would fight in Afrikaans, the language of the oppressive apart- heid government, which they had been forced to learn in school. They assumed I wouldn’t understand them because Natal, the last outpost of the English, was not an Afrikaans-speak- ing province. But by the time I was enrolled in St. Mary’s Dioce- san School for Girls (DSG) in 1991, I could express myself in isiZulu, Setswana, Afrikaans, and English, and understood isiXhosa, Sepedi, and Sesotho. St. Mary’s DSG was a world that Black people had had no access to until the 1990s. It was, and remains, a pristine, all girls private school with boarding facilities in the hills of Kloof,

tribes and with those of the Dutch and then English Settlers. Many of these languages and their dialects, which were not preserved nor made official South African languages, have been forgotten and lost. South Africa is an incredibly diverse country; each area has its own dis- tinctive culture, language, and way of being. My mother, who was born to a Zambian father and Xhosa mother, had grown up in an area where Sepedi, Setswana, and Afrikaans were, and still are, the predominant languages. My father, born in Natal to a Zulu woman, father unknown, spoke isiZulu and some English, but moved to live with his aunt in Kim- berley when his mother married a Sesotho man. By the time he returned to Durban as a married man, my

Having attended a private boarding school where I was forced to express


in dance FALL 2021 22

FALL 2021 in dance 23




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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