Dance is an expression of self and emotion. It involves the physicality of movement of the entire body even up to the face. The role and portrayal of the dance differs according to various cultures. Dance is believed by many to be an expression of a message or story, or even therapeutic.
This piece will introduce us to a dance that twists the waist – The Xibelani Dance of South Africa.
The Xibelani dance (pronounced Shibelani, Shibelana or Shibelane) is an indigenous dance of the Tsonga women of Limpopo, a province in northern part of South Africa.
Who are the Tsonga people?
They are a diverse group of tribes that include the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, Vandzawu, VaTshwa, Vakalanga and Valoyi tribes to name a few. One must note that tribal differences often lead to rejection of the title Shangaan or Tsonga, depending on the people you’re speaking to. It’s important to understand that Tsonga people share one origin, but each tribe has assumed different identities. Apart from South Africa, the Tsonga people also live in other African countries such as; Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
The spectacular Xibelani Dance:
The name of the dance comes from the native Xitsonga language which can be translated to “hitting to the rhythm”. Literally speaking, the words “Xi Bela ni typically refers to the dance style while the skirt that gives the dance its peculiarity is referred to as “tinguvu”. So, sometimes the term “Xibelani” is sometimes used to refer to both the dance and the skirt. This Xibelani skirt is tied around the dancer’s waist. It is made from cloth or wool and is customized with different colours and designs.
The design of the “tinguvu (the skirt):
The skirt is made up of a short top layer across the hips over a longer skirt. The styles and fabric have evolved over the years. More expensive Xibelani skirts are made from cloth, while scraps and wools from sacks can be used by those who cannot afford costlier materials which were rampant during the colonial era.
For the Tsonga people, the girls must learn the dance as it is the way to show their pride and heritage. It is a typical Caribbean-like shake with faster rhythm. The aim of this skirt is to make the dancer’s hip look bigger. Throughout the dance, they shake the hips to the drum’s beat and the typically designed skirt emphasizes the shaking.
The Tsongas perform the Xibelani dance to their own local and distinct sounds which are usually Tsonga electro or Tsonga ndzhumbha and it has become typical for all Tsonga bands to have female Xibelani dancers. The Xibelani dance has experienced regained popularity much that even modern-day South African musicals feature this dance, proof that the people have embraced their traditional ways.
In the spirit of inclusion, some men now also participate in it, especially in parties.
So, when next you visit this part of South Africa, you can join the dance and purchase the traditional costume for the gram and keep sake.
What spectacular dance do you have in your community that you think the world should know about? Do share with us in the comment section.