Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Soweto Street Beat Dance Theatre Inc. took over the LPAC stage on Friday evening in an energetic and inspiring performance that combined traditional Zulu dancing, drumming, and vocals. This non-profit organization is “the only professional South African dance troupe in the United States,” according to its website.
At the performance, executive Director Peter Ngcobo described the history of the organization; it first formed in 1989 as “a way to help underprivileged kids” living in the portion of Johannesberg known as Soweto. As artistic Director Isabelle Doll Ngcobo explained, “We focus on the young men.” In 1992 the troupe moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Today, SSB continues to bring South African teenagers to the United States to study and perform traditional dance.
The performance opened with resounding drumbeats and group singing punctuated by bird-like trills and whistles. The dancing was dynamic and the group was perfectly synchronized. The dancers, all men, wore traditional Zulu costumes, including feathered headdresses, and leg bands that added visual weight to their stamping feet. Each dancer also took a turn alone; their solo routines incorporated elements from other styles of dancing, including hip-hop.
Overall, though, the focus of the performance was on maintaining and sharing Zulu tradition. During a brief interlude, the audience even learned some new words. Famously, the Zulu language incorporates click consonants, and the Zulu words for “earring,” “egg,” and “frog” all contain more than one click, making them a challenge for English-speakers to pronounce.
At the end of the show, the dancers called up audience members – both students and professors – for a quick dance lesson onstage. Then Mr. and Mrs. Ngcobo spoke about the troupe’s mission and about their hopes for South Africa’s future, extending a heartfelt invitation for Americans to visit. “We [are] trying so hard to learn from the American[s],” said Mr. Ngcobo.