Bryan Little‘s documentary The African Cypher plunges itself into the underworld of street dance culture in South Africa. The film follows a handful of inspiring teens who have found their calling in the form of dance, each born and raised from a past filled with unfavorable circumstances, as they prepare for the 2012 Red Bull Beat Battle for a chance to make history. More story tidbits can be read as follows:
“I dance as if I have a gun to my head.” – Mada Sthembiso, (Shakers&Movers)
Street dance in South Africa is a complex, convoluted underworld; that, like most sub-cultures, exists as a sum of its participants.
In Mapetla, Soweto if you steal phones and hand bags you will not live long. The community will kill you. If you do a heist, they will tell the police you are not there. Prince tells me this as we walk back to Mada’s place from the shisa nyama. (an informal outdoor fire where you can buy some meat to cook and drink a beer.)
Prince is a pantsula. He used to be a tsotsi, a gangster, a thug. Today he walks his streets with pride; he is a pantsula dancer and a little bit famous. Tom London from Soweto’s Finest says, “When we dance we find purpose with our bodies”. Prince, strolling down the dusty street with his fluid movement, a little trouble in his hat and a slight swagger, is perhaps the embodiment of that sentiment.
When he dances on the street corner with Mada; the kids, the tsotsi’s, the mama’s, the unemployed and the hustlers all stop to watch him. I always wonder how it must feel to have that power residing right inside you. No props, no burning hoops – nothing. Whatever this dance thing is. It is beautiful, part circus/part soul. No matter the context or style. We all ultimately dance for an audience of one.”
Check out all the embedded goodies down below.
Trailer for The African Cypher.
Background on Ubuntu B-Boys.
Background on Soweto’s Finest.
Background on Shakers & Movers.
The African Cypher, 2012