One of the highlights of a visit to South Africa’s 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 the natural rhythm. Born out of traditional Khoi and San ceremonial dances around the fire, the Riel Dance has been practised 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 other’s 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.
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 many awards.
They made their winning debut on the national stage in SA when they were crowned 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, scooping no less than three Gold medals and one Silver, and outing 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.
These remarkable young dancers’ dust kicking rhythm is infectious.