Bushmans Kloof. – One of the highlights of a visit to the Cederberg area, is a chance to see the ‘Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers’ Riel Dancer Champions. I’d heard about them and followed their story, but nothing could have prepared me for the energy and cheekiness that they exude in their performance. The way they move, the infectious tapping of feet and natural rhythm …
Born out of traditional Khoi and San ceremonial dances around the fire, the Riel Dance has been practiced by descendants of these indigenous cultures for many years. Recognised as a pure form of cultural expression, the dances include courtship rituals, and mimic typical animal antics along with lots of bravado, showmanship and foot stomping in their traditional outfits.
On the day of the Cedar Tree planting, the young men dancers arrived first, standing proud to one side, showing off their posture and pose, green waistcoat-coats buttoned, white shirts catching the afternoon sun and their hats poised, each with a big red ostrich feather standing straight up.
Next the girls arrived, joining the circle, catching each others eyes, moving, flirting, without a word exchanged. Then at last, they broke out in dance, into the courtship ritual, bringing dust and intensely slick moves to the mix. Red veldskoen on their feet.
I haven’t seen such speed of movement on dancer’s feet, using the walking stick to spin and balance, the girls weaving between the boys. It’s beautiful and exciting and fresh and new and strictly Cape in identity. This is bottled happiness.
The focussed expressions and details of the costumes.
The History of the Riel Dance.
The Riel is recognised as a form of cultural expression, it was very popular in the forties, fifties and sixties but has been grossly neglected in recent decades. Riel has only recently been revived through the efforts of writer and storyteller Elias Nel of the Afrikaanse Taal & Kultuurvereniging (ATKV) to maintain the existence and survival of the dance.
The original name for this dance is unknown to us but due to the similarities with the “Scottish Reel” the dance was named Riel. Dressed in traditional farm workers outfits – the girls in dresses with aprons and old frontier bonnets, and the boys in waistcoats and hats adorned with feathers – is finished with the famous, hand-made red veldskoene.
Red shoes in the dust.
The musicians and their instruments. Best sound, got everybody up and dancing.
From humble beginnings in the remote, impoverished village of Wupperthal, choreographer, manager and coach Floris Smith and his phenomenal ‘Trappers’ have taken the Riel dance scene by storm, winning award after award.
They made their winning debut on the national stage in SA when they were crowned as the Junior ATKV Riel Dance Champions in 2013, going on to win the top spot in the under-18 category in 2014. That year Floris was awarded the trophy for Most Dynamic Leader in the ATKV Riel Dance finals. They won the GRAND CHAMPION AWARD for ‘Best Group Performance’, as well as the GOLD medal in the ‘Ethnic Folk Dance’ category in the South African Championships of the Performing Arts 2014, which qualified them to represent South Africa at the World Championships of the Performing Arts in 2015.
They returned triumphantly from Los Angeles as national heroes, after having danced their way to victory – bringing back the Gold in the Ethnic Folk Dance category, and scooping no less than three Gold medals and one Silver, and outing of South Africa’s oldest indigenous ethnic folk dances firmly on the global map.
The band took the gold medal in the Open category as well as the Original categories, and also won the Overall Trophy Award in the Original categories.
Here’s a little Instagram video that will offer a feel for this infectious dust kicking dance.
Connect with them on Facebook to stay in touch and learn where you can find them next. There’s a full list of performances. Also see http://www.rieldancing.com/ for more details on how to support them. There are also videos that show there amazing performances.
I spotted some up and coming talent, below.