Pantsula: from Soweto to New York

Jabulani Manyoni, 36, has been dancing pantsula since 2004.

Junior Hlongwane, 22, is excited about going to New York.

(Images: Felix Oyetomi) 

Felix Oyetomi
  Manager, Skeleton Pantsula
  +27 79 596 5462.

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Lucille Davie

Two pantsula dancers from Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, will be leaving in mid-October to fly to New York to strut their stuff on the streets of the Big Apple.

The street dancers, Junior Hlongwane and Jabulani Manyoni, will be doing several corporate and public appearances, including a performance at Times Square. They call themselves Skeleton Pantsula, and bring enormous energy and verve to their act.

Wowing tourists on Vilakazi Street

Pantsula is a street dance form that originated in the township of Soweto in the 1980s; it comprises acrobatic foot moves and body contortions, often involving the use of hats or caps and broomsticks.

A group of visitors from Forevermark US Incorporated spotted Hlongwane and Manyoni in front of Mandela House in Soweto in February this year. They have been performing for tourists on the famous Vilakazi Street since 2005, says their manager, Felix Oyetomi.

“The delegation was so intrigued by the skill, creativity and originality of the dancers’ moves – pantsula blended with jaw-dropping contortionism, agile acrobatics, hat tricks and humour – that they spontaneously gave them each a R1 000 donation as a token of their appreciation,” indicates a press statement.

But the visitors did more – they contacted Oyetomi, saying they would sponsor the dancers performing at a company event in New York.

Forevermark has made all the arrangements, including booking flights and accommodation and looking after the pair in New York. The Department of Arts and Culture has given support by helping to arrange their visas; not long ago the young men didn’t even have passports.

“Now, the young mapantsula – who hail from humble backgrounds and did not even have bank accounts, let alone passports – have suddenly found themselves on the brink of international success,” according to the statement.

“This trip is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Junior and Jabulani,” says Oyetomi. “When I first saw them perform, I was completely blown away by their talent. Now, as their manager, I’ve made it my mission to open doors and take advantage of opportunities to showcase their amazing dance skills.”

Giving back

He says they have been dancing since 2004, and as a duo since 2005. Hlongwane is 22 and dropped out of school in grade 10, while Manyoni, 36, didn’t go beyond grade 11.

The dancers have big plans. The want to use the money from the trip to bolster the

Skeleton Pantsula Foundation, which they founded to improve the lives of youngsters who can’t afford to attend school.

Hlongwane and Manyoni were themselves unable to complete their schooling because of financial trouble. They also hope to build a new school in Jabavu, their home suburb in Soweto.

“I strongly believe they have the potential to go far as an entertainment act and that they have what it takes to fulfil their dreams.”

Oyetomi says they are excited about their upcoming trip – their only concern being flying for the first time.