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The History of Gumboot Dancing

Gumboot dancing is not like traditional African dances with spears and shields, but rather an inspiring dance against the apartheid era and the working-class stigma associated with Wellington Boots.

What is gumboot dancing?

The gumboot dance, or Isicathulo, as the Zulu’s named the dance, is a dance that is performed in South Africa by dancers wearing wellington boots. In South Africa wellington boots are more commonly called gumboots which can be embellished with bells, so that they ring as the dancers stamp on the ground. This sound would be a code or a different calling to say something to another person a short distance away.


Origins and political message

South Africa is a country with rich and diverse natural resources such as gold, coal, platinum and diamonds. The country has many mines which are a source of income for a large percentage of the country’s labour. The mines are also a good source of work for migrant workers from surrounding areas with many workers migrating from neighbouring countries Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique as a source of sustainable income. During the Apartheid era government enforced oppressive apartheid pass laws which restricted the movement and communication of migrant workers, resulting in workers creating their own “Morse code” for communication through the stomping of their feet and slapping  of their gumboots. After the rise of anti-apartheid protests during the Struggle, the gumboot dancing became a voice of protest amongst mine workers nationwide with the messages and vocals sung by locals taking on a political message to fight the oppression of the government.

Popular way of entertainment across the globe

As the mine supervisors and governments could not understand the messages and vocals that characterised the gumboot dances, dancing was encouraged as a means of entertainment and the dance grew in popularity and stature. After the country’s first Democratic Election in 1994 the gumboot dancing continued being a popular tourist attraction and many groups have toured the world to communicate their timeless message of equality, hope and passion to countries in Europe and the world.



Image: Dori Moreno Photography


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