Rieldans Revivalists Are World Champions

Against all the odds Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers got gold

Every year in Long Beach California the World Champions of the Performing Arts are chosen. Singers, musicians, dancers, actors and models compete before 75 judges from the entertainment industry. This year a group of Rieldansers from Wupperthal in the Cedarberg Mountains are the World Champions. Suddenly one of our oldest dance forms is centre stage. And they almost did not make it to the US competition because of a lack of funding. The Journalist salutes Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers.

They have no formal training. The big schools ignore their art form. The official website of Wupperthal waxes lyrical about rooibos tea but not a mention of the world champions in their midst. Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers have made it against all odds.

There is a resurgence of traditional Khoi and San (many prefer Bushman) artistry, culture and traditions. The Rieldans is a powerful, uniting energy propelling this act of reclamation. Kicking up dust with outfits that defy the superficial glitz and glamour of show business. Unsettling the status quo and demanding with each step an end to the marginalisation of the descendants of Southern Africa’s First Nations.

One of the members of Die Trappers, Zarion Sampson sums up how despite the lack of formal training and no written records to assist them they have made it all the way to being chosen the best in the world.

“My granny loves the Rieldans. She taught my mother and my mother taught me. That’s how everyone learns around here,” he says.

Like many of the other group members he is a high school student who also likes kwaito and house music, but they have learned a love for the traditional dance form as well
In Los Angeles at the finals of the World Championships of the Performing Arts Zarion Samson and Jobry Swart took the Division Award for the Tap Category and walked away with a 1 month scholarship with Millennium Dance Company.

Khoi Khoi and San cultures and traditions have been almost obliterated, along with a host of languages. The closest linguistic survivor is Khoekhoegowab or Nama that is not taught in South African schools, despite an ongoing battle.

From Wupperthal to Hollywood

From Wupperthal to Hollywood

But in recent times people have taken it upon themselves to learn from the elders and fan the embers of a dying culture into a fire of activity. Ironically it has been the previously white, right-wing and racist cultural group the Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuur Vereeniging (ATKV) that recognised this growing phenomenon.

Elias Nel, the mover shaker behind the revival of the Rieldans at the ATKV, says

“When we started we had a handful of groups from different parts of the country coming to Cape Town to compete. Now the annual Rieldans competition at the Taal Monument attracts almost 10 000 participants and fans every year.”

With the flourishing of the Rieldans annual contest Elias Nel and his team have been asked by the Nama Stap dancers (a related but different art form) from as far afield as Namibia, to include them in the event.

But despite all this the gold medalists from the Cederberg struggled hard to raise the finance for the trip to Los Angeles. Their main corporate sponsors were the Bushmans Kloof Wildnerness Reserve but after this backing the group was still short of more than a quarter million rand.

Days before they were due to leave their fundraising efforts and media exposure paid off and they managed to scrape enough money together for everyone’s airfare, accommodation and subsistence.

The Trappers in Wupperthal

The Trappers in Wupperthal

Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers were in Long Beach, California for two weeks, competing against performers from 50 countries at the 19th annual International Performing Arts Championships. These teenagers from Wupperthal and surrounding villages in the Cederberg formed part of a 90-strong South African team.

According to the World Championships of Performing Arts website, the 17-member Trappers team won 14 gold and eight silver medals in the senior dance category, and the band of musicians won seven silver medals in the senior instruments category. They also received a trophy for being the winners in the open dance category.

The Trappers’ Facebook page was flooded with messages of congratulations from their fans.

In a press statement, Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said the team are cultural ambassadors who carry the spirit of the country’s indigenous culture that they express through their costumes, movement, choreography and dance.

“We are proud to see our young, gifted and proudly South African artists take their rightful place to share our culture and heritage with their counterparts worldwide.”