Where: Cotton’s 294 Xinhua Lu, 新华路294号
Cover: 50RMB donation
If energetic dance, vibrant rhythms and supporting an organization that brings positive change to disadvantaged youth are your thing, then head to Cotton’s Xinhua branch tomorrow night for a gumboot dance performance to be remembered.
We sat down with six smiling members of the Kliptown Youth Program gumboot dance team to learn more about KYP, their personal stories and what gumboot dance is exactly (you will be happy to know it doesn’t involve your favorite flavor of Wrigley’s or Juicy Fruit).
The dancers are:
- Sipho: Administrator at KYP
- Thulani: Director of KYP
- Collen: Enrolled in KYP’s tertiary program
- Siphamandla: Current student at KYP
- Siphe: Current student at KYP
- Thando: Deputy Director and gumboot extraordinaire
This is your guys’ first time to China. When you found out you were coming here what were you thinking?
Thulani: When we found out we were coming to Shanghai we were very excited because this is our first time in Asia. Some of us have traveled to other countries before but never to Asia. It is very rare to have the chance to share your culture and talents with other people halfway around the world. Probably our biggest worry was how are we going to communicate.
Sipho: None of us know how to speak Chinese, but luckily we worked with some Chinese children during the World Cup and did our best to communicate with them through gestures and body language, so we will try that I guess.
Thando: Most of the time we know Shanghai from the movies so when we found out we were coming it was exciting to know we were going to experience the real thing. I also can’t wait to try the food using chopsticks.
Collen: First thing that came to mind was martial arts and Karate. Then I thought about how I was going to eat because I have never used chopsticks before.
Siphamandla: The first thing I noticed about Shanghai when we arrived is the amount of people. We took the Maglev and the subway to our hotel and man there are so many people. But it’s ok because I already feel like part of society here.
Can you give some background about KYP? What it does in Kliptown and how it came about?
Thulani: KYP was founded in May 2007 as a response to the social challenges that we face in our community. Unemployment is high and there is a lack of schools and basic utilities so we realized many young people were struggling everyday. There were about 50 of us who came together to start the original KYP. At that time, our focus was just on theatre mainly, as we were called Kliptown Theatre Productions but we realized people with other interests wanted to get involved with the organization. Since then we expanded to include more programs, like sports, tutoring services, continuing education and even providing meals.
Education is a huge part of what we do and we are constantly emphasizing it to the students. We have a 100% pass rate for the grade 12 exams compared to 36% for the rest of Soweto. While we started with nothing, today we have over 350 people involved.
How did you get involved with KYP and how has it helped you?
Sipho: I was in the original group that started KYP. I was into theatre and teaching gumboot dance and actually participated in another program. But once I reached grade 12 I was not able to go forward with my studies in that program. One of the other leaders of KYP approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping to form a new organization. From then I have been involved full time and it has become a part of my life. It makes me happy because I am working with something that is producing results.
Collen: I was in the original group as well but what has helped me the most is the tutoring program offered by KYP. I joined in grade 10 and found the tutors to be very helpful because in my school there were about 45 students in my class. Two years later I passed my grade 12 exams and entered into a school to study engineering so it has really helped me to realize my goals.
Siphamandla: Before I was in another organization that mainly focused on performing arts but I went to KYP to join the tutoring program and dance team. I and the other students in my grade level have really benefited from the tutoring program. For three weeks there were teacher strikes in South Africa and no class. Luckily, we had our tutoring everyday still so when we returned to school we were able to pass the test.
Siphe: Actually, my story is a bit different from the others because I was just playing with cows and other animals all day in my village before I met Thando. He invited me to join them for a gumboot practice and I have liked it ever since. Before I could barely speak English but my level has improved greatly since joining KYP. This is very important because all of the national tests for school are taken in English.
So what exactly is gumboot dance? Can you describe what a performance is like for us?
Thando: Gumboot dance has its origins in the mines of Capetown. The miners were not allowed to talk with one another so they developed a system where they would hit their boots. This soon became more than just a communication system as they started to incorporate dance and step into it.
The dance itself is very energetic with lots of rhythm and emotion. It combines a special technique of slapping the boots with traditional songs that the miners used to sing as well as other African beats. I can promise that you will not be disappointed. We want to show that South Africa has talent and its own style!
With KYP having been around for three years now with great results, going forward, what goals, dreams and/or aspirations do you have for KYP?
Thulani: The day I will be happy is when every child in Kliptown doesn’t have to be reminded to do their homework and that they take school seriously. I also look forward to the day when we have an expanded KYP center with graduates who become doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.
Thando: My dream will be realized when I see KYP centers in other cities in South Africa and possibly across all of Africa.
Sipho: My goal is to have 6,000 students graduate from KYP who are competent and employable. So many students in our community are unemployable and we need to change this.
How can those who want to help the youth of Kliptown do so through your organization?
Thulani: In the immediate term we are fundraising for our next group of students to attend tertiary institutions and continue their education so if you are interested in donating it would go to that cause.
But actually, we want to be a self-sustaining group. One way we can do that is by asking people to not necessarily always give donations but to aid us in developing our skills. Whether it is marketing, bookkeeping, teaching, etc. if we can learn these skills then we as an organization can gain independence. We ask the same of our old members, that they come back and help us in some way and pass on what they have learned to those that are younger. This helps us to nurture our own talents, not needing to constantly rely on outside help, which allows us to build more capacity and develop as an organization.