(Chestertown, MD my kind of town, Day Three.)
A fleeting glance into the window of one of those old theatres from yesteryear had me twitching with anticipation. The flyer read “AN INTRODUCTION TO SOUTH AFRICAN CULTURE AND DANCE”
“THE LESOLE DANCE PROJECT.”
I hightailed it back to the boat and begged the captain to stay another day. Permission was graciously granted (there was a thunder storm warning for the next day anyway!)
Wednesday afternoon found me dressed in my new blue top, clean white shorts, camera in hand and as excited as a kid going to the circus.
From the moment Lesole bounced on to the stage in full tribal gear, 60 – 80 kids (and I’m including myself) sat transfixed.
I forgot to mention that the performance was part of a 12-week summer program in Chestertown MD for kids where they try to expose them to other cultures. Thus, surrounded by kids, I was free to act like one. And yup, I did…..
Lesole was a master at engaging the kids, bringing them on stage and teaching them steps from the traditional Gum Boot Dance and a Zulu Dance (of which I cannot pronounce the name, thus can’t spell it and am not going to embarrass myself by trying!) after which he would turn the kids loose to do it on their own.
He very cleverly used these fun moments to feed them a few facts. South Africa has 11 official languages. Yikes!
People from all these different language groups came to work in the gold mines, the diamond mines and the coal mines.
So how did these people communicate? They developed a way by clapping their hands and stamping their feet. (Think Morse code – my words, not Lesole’s.) And thus the Gum Boot Dance was born.
There are true stories behind the other Zulu dances. In the days of the great Zulu King Shaka, there were no fancy fitness centers with fancy equipment. These tough dance movements, leaps and tumbles (try sitting in a squat position for 4 hours) were really a workout to keep his warriors fit.
My moment came at the end when I went up to the stage and said, “I’m South African and I’m really homesick right now. May I please have a hug?” Lesole pulled me on to the stage and I was enfolded in strong arms. I closed my eyes and felt the love flow between this dark brother of mine and myself.
How far we have come. And why can’t it be like this everywhere?
“Love,” Lesole said as we hugged a final goodbye. “We just have to spread love.”