Dancing in the Dust: South African ‘Rieldans’

Dancing in the Dust: South African ‘Rieldans’

Dancing in the Dust: South African ‘Rieldans’

by June 29, 2017

Few things compare to the high energy buzzing around the dirt dance floor when the rieldans starts. The light, fast tempo dance is more than just about the music and dancing, it’s about keeping one of the oldest cultures alive.

These traditional South African dancers practise the oldest dancing tradition in the country, one dating back to the early Khoi-San people. This heritage is still very much alive in the Northern Cape and the Karoo. This fancy display of footwork is often coupled with traditional Afrikaans music.

The origin of Riel Dancing

The Rieldans is an age-old tradition among the Khoi and San, dating back to the hunter-gatherer days. It is an ancient, celebratory dance used for social, cultural and educational reasons. Once the hunters returned from an expedition, or there was a good harvest, they would dance the rieldans. With the near disappearance of the Khoi-San people, this dance ran the risk of being lost forever.

Luckily, this tradition has evolved with the times. Farmworkers have now adopted it, and the dance includes aspects of their daily lives.

The Rieldans revival

The Rieldans was at risk of being one of those traditions that would be lost forever as cultures evolve. That was until Elias P. Nel, a local in the Northern Cape who grew up with the rich tradition, decided to save it. He approached the ATKV, an organisation in charge of cultural preservation, for help. With their help, Elias has been organising national rieldans competitions.

The dance is typically done to chanting and indigenous music created on string, percussion and wind instruments. More recently, it is enjoyed with the jolly boere music of the Afrikaans people and the colourful rhythms of goema carnival sounds. There has even been a modern influence of jazz and hip hop that surfaces in the tunes.