Breakin’ Convention, the international festival of hip-hop dance, is now 14 years old and tours the UK this month, visiting Salford’s Lowry Theatre and the Blackpool Grand. Founder and artistic director Jonzi D brings South Africa’s Soweto Skeleton Movers to the UK, who until Breakin’ Convention 2016 had never danced in a theatre. They showcase their signature “skeleton” moves, using a dance style known as pantsula, derived from the streets of South Africa. We asked them to describe their work and to talk about what audiences can expect.
Who are the Soweto Skeleton Movers?
A crew from Soweto in South Africa that is mainly about a style of dance called pantsula. We started in 2003, founded by Jabulani Manyoni, who started to teach a guy called Bhiza in Snake-Park, Soweto. He was dancing the skeleton style alone until he found Bhiza. Bhiza chose another kind of dance called ssbhujwa. Jabulani moved from Snake-Park to Mapetla, another area in Soweto, where he found the late Thapelo Tiro and taught him the skeleton style. Thapelo brought Junior Hlongwane with him and together we were dancing all over the streets of Soweto – busking in the trains and in the city of Johannesburg to make ends meet for us and our families. Jabulani met Thapeol and Junior in 2005 and in 2006, we went to Vilakazi Street (Mandela Museum) and tourist restaurants in Vilakazi, which we made our place of work as tourists seemed to put cash anywhere where we were busking.
Can you describe skeleton pantsula style?
Compared to other groups, Soweto Skeleton Movers fuse our own pantsula style with “bone breaking” and comedic contortionism as well as footwork and magical hat tricks. All seems to be loved by audiences and makes us different from other groups of pantsulas. The biggest thing that happened to us was being found by Breakin’ Convention, which took us to London in 2016. This was the first time we had performed in a theatre – at Sadler’s Wells – and it was an amazing feeling,
Tell us about the piece you brought this year.
This year the Soweto Skeleton Movers come with a show titled Seven (7) for the UK tour. The show is called Seven (7) because seven, according to how we see it, is a number that symbolises perfection.
Are you excited about touring the UK?
We are very excited about touring the UK this year as this is our very first experience like this. So far, we’ve learned so many things, from staging and lighting to the performances of other dance crews and we regard this as the experience of a lifetime. We consider ourselves very blessed and lucky to have been part of Breakin’ Convention with those other amazing crews alongside. We’re hoping and believing that more will come as they continue their relationship with Breakin’ Convention. It is important for us and our show to be brought to small towns and communities outside major cities, the reason being that we just want to share our talent to the whole world irrespective of the background of the place or audience. We appreciate everyone and every place and its difference.