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History of The Performance of Ballet and Indlamu Dance in South Africa

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History of The Performance of Ballet and Indlamu Dance in South Africa essay
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Ballet and traditional Zulu Indlamu dance come from vastly different origins but both are traced back to the 17th century and started from royalty. When colonisation occurred in South Africa, ballet was brought. Even though Indlamu dance was created in South Africa, Ballet was the only dance performed in major concert theatres since it was valued higher and has far more writings on it than any other dance form during the 1920-1940s. This was due to the socio-political climate of South Africa caused by colonialism and Apartheid.

According to Homan, when the Italian Florentine Catherine de Medici wedded French King Henri II, the Italian and French culture integrated and here is where the history of ballet begins. (2010:1724) During the 16th century France had many conflicts – which dealt with civil and religious matters- French kings sought the arts to soothe the violence which was a result of these conflicts. (Homan 2010:1725)

In the 17th century, ballet remained central around court where the French Queen Florentine Catherine de Medici, increased the number of ballets performed at court and her son King Louis XIII became a great dancer and later his heir, King Louis XIV. (Homan 2010:1727)

To increase the King’s authority, the King’s image and body in Ballet became important since his body was seen as indivisible and sacred. “He ruled, theorists claimed, by Divine Right: he was already, by birth and blood, closer to the angels and God.” (Homan 2010:1728)

King Louis XIV devoted himself to dancing. He danced in over forty major productions beginning in the year 1651 at the age of thirteen. He didn’t dance “just as a youthful fling; it was a matter of state.” (Homan 2010:1728) “These performances flattered his couriers and captured the hearts and minds of his people” (Homan 2010:1728) King Louis XIV used noble dances to enhance his confidence and ambition, in various performances such as Ballet du Temps (1655) where he performed as War, Europe, the sun and the god Apollo (suggesting power and empire). (Homan 2010:1728)

“Under Louis XIV, dance became much more than a blunt instrument with which to display royal opulence and power. He made it integral to life at court, a symbol and requirement of aristocratic identity so deeply ingrained and internalized that the art of ballet would be forever linked to his reign. It was at Louis court that the practices of royal spectacle and aristocratic social dance was distilled and refined; it was under his auspices that the rules and conventions governing the art of classical ballet was born.” (Homan 2010:1728)

He also founded “the Académie Royale de Danse to improve the level of amateur and professional dancing, and to establish scientific principles for the art. “ (Baker, Gaynor & Hilton 1981:9)

In the 17th century, as the beginnings of Ballet was occurring in France, parallel in South Africa a new dance was blossoming called Indlamu. Another similarity of these two vastly different types of dance is that they both originated from royal lineage. Ballet originating from French kings such as King Louis XIV and Indlamu originating during the reign of King Shaka, who was renowned to be a great king and conquer. “The Zulu Indlamu attire got most exposure during the Shaka regime in the 1800s.” (Shawn Manyeneng, 2015)

Even though both these dance phenomenon’s were simultaneously forming in time, where there is a surplus of transcripts and archives of the ballet and especially its history, there seems to be a shortage of any writings on Indlamu dance. “Through colonialism, domination and economic exploitation alongside political, systems of control were introduced. African culture was always viewed as vicious and primitive leading to Africans running away from their traditions and embracing western cultures. As a result, most of the traditions were lost and not preserved for future reference by African generations. Most documentation available on traditional costumes is mostly on colourful pictures and illustrations emphasis, without much supporting literature explaining the evolution of the costumes and the construction processes.” (Shawn Manyeneng, 2015) Therefore I have had to conduct my research on what I could find on various elements of the dance form, such as Indlamu costume, to substantiate my work.

When colonialism occurred in South Africa in 1652, they brought their European dances with them. For the Europeans dance was a social form of communication, recreation and entertainment as folk or court dances. “Darwin’s theories of evolution reinforced the European attitudes of racial and cultural superiority. The culture of the indigenous black population was perceived as simple, undeveloped and generally on a lower level of ‘civilization’ than that of the European colonists. Their music and dance was see as primitive and not worthy of understanding or emulation. These attitudes have persisted and are still to be found to this day. The ethnocentrism of a large percentage of the dance community allowed them to see indigenous black dance as only ‘repetitive’ and ‘boring’, instead of learning to appreciate the structural subtleties, rhythmic complexity, intricate footwork, sudden shifts of weight and counterpoint of juxtaposed body parts.” Therefore the lack of writing about traditional South African dances such as Indlamu, cause by the settler’s colonialist attitude which resulted in the revulsion towards the culture of native South Africans. (Glasser, 1991:114-115)

According to Manyeneng, Zulu Indlamu dance originated from the battlefronts. It later was a dance used to celebrate events such as winning a war and the inauguration of a King. (Shawn Manyeneng, 2015) This traditional dance was greatly influence by King Shaka. “All the cultural experts were in agreement that the strong warrior culture embedded in the history of the Zulu nation by the military and organizational capabilities of Shaka played a major role in the evolution and development of the Zulu Indlamu costume.” (2015)

“Originally, the Zulu indlamu dance was a military drill exercise, which was meant to teach and instil discipline in the men of the Zulu nation. It also prepared members of the regiment for war (Asante, 2000: 68-69)” (Shawn Manyeneng, 2015)

Much like Ballet and how King Louis XIV would represent things such as “war” or “Apollo (suggesting power and empire), the performers in Indlamu would also symbolise war and power. “Zulu dance and especially warrior dance, served as a symbol of power representing self-control and dominance (Brill, 1977:113); as a result, Zulu Indlamu dance emerged out of the war dances of the Zulu warriors (Dlamini, 2008).” (Shawn Manyeneng, 2015)

Similarly to the origins of Ballet which was performed by royalty such as King Louis XIII and King Louis XIV, people of royalty such as kings would also perform. “Leopard skin is strictly used on costume pieces for the King and members of the royal family. These pieces are worn around the head and as a collar.” (Shawn Manyeneng, 2015)

According to Friedman, South Africa arts has been shaped by the socio-political climate of Colonialism and Apartheid. Apartheid was an official government system which began in 1948 but before such laws were made official, these laws used to be ‘custom’ so even though they weren’t official, people were still were racially biased and separation between races were evident for an example in 1936, the Native Trust and Land Act which basically officialised the separation of Black and White rural areas. Both systems diminished the value of native African culture, the only interest was ethnic curiosity in dance. The regime of Apartheid chose to favour British Ballet, despite its freedom from colonialism, as a high form of dance above all others such as traditional Zulu Indlamu dance. (Friedman, 2012:1) “Most theatres prescribed to the cultural and artistic norms promulgated and imposed by apartheid, and only a handful of independent theatres… made attempts to challenge the system.” (Friedman, 2012:1) Therefore dance performed in South African court theatre was ballet in major theatre spaces since all other dance forms were not valued, which was watched by specific type of audience, the white population of South Africa at the time. However, some people tried to challenge the system and perform other multi-racial dances and they did this by using certain spaces such as the Space Theatre in Cape Town, which declared its self a private club, and the use of independent theatres such as the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. (Friedman, 2012:2)

Both Ballet, from France, and Indlamu dance, from South Africa, both originated from Kings and in the 17th century, used to symbolise power and were performed by royalty. Ballet was valued more by the Apartheid regime during the period of 1920-1940s, therefore was performed vastly more and written on more since the indigenous people’s culture was disdained.

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History of the performance of Ballet and Indlamu dance in South Africa. (2019, Jun 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from
“History of the performance of Ballet and Indlamu dance in South Africa.” GradesFixer, 27 Jun. 2019,
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