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By Gregory Maqoma

Dance, for me, has been a journey of unconventional rhythms, a symphony of movements that transcends not only the physical realm but also the cultural and societal norms that sought to confine it. As a Black South African, raised in the vibrant township of Soweto, my life's dance began as a silent protest against expectations rooted in a middle-class family with Christian values, where education was considered the sacred bridge to a promised land, a metaphorical Nirvana. Today, I stand not just as a practitioner of this art form but as an author, weaving the tales of my life, my dance, and my soul into the rich tapestry of South Africa's artistic landscape.

"South African dance is a tapestry and a collision woven from the threads of diverse cultures, a rich mosaic of movements that echo the nation's history and resilience."

Within the confines of these cultural and familial expectations, I discovered the transformative power of movement. Dance became my language, a rebellion against norms that sought to limit expression. The Township of Soweto became a place where each step I took echoed the resilience of a community navigating through the complexities of identity and tradition.

The influence of my upbringing, firmly rooted in Christian values, created a dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. It was within this tension that the seeds of my artistic pursuits were sown. Education, often seen as the gateway to societal ascension, became a canvas upon which my dance unfolded, intertwining the structured discipline of academia with the boundless freedom of artistic expression.

In the crucible of Soweto, the influences of tradition, spirituality, and the pursuit of knowledge forged a unique path for me as a dancer and my artistic endeavours but also the broader landscape of South African dance where often I am referred to as a leader and visionary, a position that comes with many responsibilities.

young African boy prepares to blow out candles on a birthday cake
Gregory holding his mother’s birthday cake, age 7

Artistic Evolution in South Africa

South African dance is a tapestry and a collision woven from the threads of diverse cultures, a rich mosaic of movements that echo the nation's history and resilience. As a practitioner within this dynamic landscape, I've witnessed the evolution of our art form – a dance that transcends mere physical expression.

In the heart of this evolution lies the profound collision of collaborative ideas. It's not just a dance between bodies, but a convergence of time and space, a conversation between mind and body, an interplay of sound and silence. The stage becomes a sacred space where performer and audience engage in a dialogue that goes beyond words and often feels like a congregation with a dancer delivering a sermon. It's a communal experience, a celebration of shared narratives that traverse the boundaries of culture and tradition.

"Our movements are a testament to the interconnectedness of the human experience, a global love letter etched in the fluidity of motion, where each step is a brushstroke painting a picture of human complexities in diversity..."

South African artists, in their intricate choreography, become ambassadors of a universal language. Our movements are a testament to the interconnectedness of the human experience, a global love letter etched in the fluidity of motion, where each step is a brushstroke painting a picture of human complexities in diversity, thirty years into democracy and still the remnants of apartheid South Africa lingers within government structures and concomitant that continue to destroy the good that remains.  

As we explore the collision of ideas, we find that the very essence of our art lies in its ability to bridge divides. The dance becomes a living archive, embodying the stories of a nation navigating through history, offering a palpable connection to our roots. South Africa is a canvas where tradition meets innovation, and the stage becomes a safe space for a collective soul of South Africa.

A group of Black and white African dancers pose together
The Moving into Dance team with Sylvia Glasser (far left), touring Australia

My Life, My Dance, My Soul

In the pages of 'My Life, My Dance, My Soul,' my journey finds its voice, each chapter a rhythmic progression echoing the beats of my life. This book is not merely a recounting of events; it is a dance in written form, a choreography of words that encapsulates the very essence of my existence.

Here, the dance becomes a narrative, a story woven with the threads of personal experiences, challenges, and triumphs. It delves into the intricacies of a life dedicated to movement, reflecting the broader tapestry of South African dance. From the humbleness of the streets of Soweto to the grand stages that hosted my performances, each page turns like a pirouette, revealing the layers of a dancer's soul.

The book is not just an autobiography but a testament to the transformative power of dance. It serves as an archive, documenting not only my personal journey but also the collective journey of South African artists. In its essence, 'My Life, My Dance, My Soul' is a bridge between the tangible and the intangible, a mirror reflecting the spirit of a nation through the lens of movement, and each written word is a step in the perpetual dance of life.

African man dances under a spout of sand that pours over him in traditional African clothing
Gregory dancing in Exit/Exist, credit Arthur Dlamini

South African Dance as a Global Love Letter

In the rhythmic articulation of South African dance, we find a universal language, a global love letter penned with the ink of movement. Our artists, in their graceful strides and spirited expressions, contribute to a conversation that extends far beyond our borders.

The collaborative nature of South African dance serves as a bridge between cultures, a celebration that transcends geographical boundaries. It's a dialogue where the traditional meets the contemporary, and the echoes of our history resonate with the pulse of the world. This love letter of movements born in the heart of South Africa becomes an ambassador of a shared humanity, where the pain and devastating results of wars and similar atrocities are often left to the dance to heal and give a glimpse of hope.   

As our dances traverse the stages of international festivals, they carry with them not just the tales of a nation but also the aspirations of a global community. The themes embedded in the choreography – resilience, unity, and the celebration of diversity – echo the sentiments that resonate with people across continents and the calls for ceasefire in Israel-Palestine, Russia-Ukraine, Sudan, calling for humanity to prevail.

Challenges and Triumphs

The path of a dancer and author in South Africa is not without its hurdles. As I navigated the intricate steps of artistic expression, I faced challenges rooted in societal expectations, financial constraints, and sometimes, the struggle to be heard in a world filled with myriad voices.

"I envision a pragmatic future for South African dance – a future where our movements continue to transcend borders, where the collision of collaborative ideas evolves into a harmonious symphony that reverberates across the global stage."

In a society shaped by diverse influences, breaking away from conventional norms posed its own set of challenges. The fusion of traditional values with the avant-garde nature of dance sometimes led to misunderstandings and skepticism. However, within these challenges emerged a resilient spirit, a determination to redefine the boundaries of expression and carve a space for South African dance on both national and global platforms.

Financial constraints often cast shadows on the pursuit of artistic dreams. The dance, fueled by passion, had to coexist with the practicalities of life. Yet, it is within these limitations that creativity thrives. The ability to transcend financial barriers became a dance of its own, a choreography of resourcefulness and innovation.

Triumphs, on the other hand, manifested in the moments of connection with audiences, the recognition of the transformative power of dance, and the realization that my journey resonates with others. Each standing ovation and every word of appreciation in response to my book echoed not only personal triumphs but the triumphs of South African dance as a whole. It's a testament to the indomitable spirit that propels artists forward, transcending obstacles to share the beauty of South African dance with the world.

Image 1: Chief Maqoma and his wife Kayti, South Africa, c. 1869 (photo by William Moore)

Image 2: In Exit/Exist, Gregory as Chief Maqoma asks, ‘Where are the cattle?’ (photo by Arthur Dlamini)

Conclusion: Dancing Through the Politics

In the intricate dance of life, my journey as a Black South African dancer and author becomes entwined with the political currents that shape our existence. The collision of collaborative ideas, witnessed in the fusion of tradition and innovation, takes on a nuanced layer when viewed through the lens of societal and political dynamics.

South African dance, in its rhythmic articulation, becomes a form of resistance, a silent protest against the norms that seek to confine. The streets of Soweto, once a crucible of political upheaval, find their echoes in the movements that transcend the stage. 'My Life, My Dance, My Soul' unfolds not only as a personal narrative but as a political statement—a declaration that our stories, our movements, are an integral part of the broader narrative of South Africa's struggle and triumph.

Amidst challenges, whether societal norms or financial constraints, the dance takes on a political charge. It becomes a platform for voices often marginalized, a canvas where the politics of identity and expression converge. Each pirouette, each leap, becomes a subtle act of defiance, a reclaiming of space and narrative in a world where politics often seeks to silence.

As we envision the pragmatic future of South African dance, it is impossible to divorce it from the political landscape. The collision of collaborative ideas becomes a metaphor for the ongoing dialogue between tradition and progress, a dance that echoes the complexities of a nation navigating its political journey.

As I reflect on this odyssey, I envision a pragmatic future for South African dance – a future where our movements continue to transcend borders, where the collision of collaborative ideas evolves into a harmonious symphony that reverberates across the global stage. It is my hope that the love letter we inscribe with our dance becomes a source of inspiration for future generations, fostering a legacy that goes beyond the limits of time and space where every movement is a revolutionary act.


Born in Soweto, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma became interested in dance in the late 1980’s as a means to escape the political tensions growing in his place of birth. He started his formal dance training in 1990 at Moving Into Dance where in 2002 he became the Associate Artistic Director. Maqoma has established himself as an internationally renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, director, and scriptwriter. He founded Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) in 1999 when he was undertaking a scholarship at the Performing Arts Research and Training School (PARTS) in Belgium under the direction of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Maqoma is respected for his collaborations with artists of his generation. In 2006 he worked with the British-based choreographer Akram Khan and the London Symphonietta to the music of Steve Reich Variations for vibes, pianos & strings. He also created Neon Flight for the South African Ballet Theatre, which premiered in Russia in June 2006.

Maqoma is perhaps best known for producing trilogies. He first created the award-winning Rhythm Trilogy (comprising Rhythm 1 2 3, Rhythm Blues, and Rhythm Colour) followed by, respectively, the Beauty Trilogy – Beautiful, Beautiful Me, and Beautiful Us. Beautiful (a duet with Shanell Winlock) premiered in South Africa in a VDT/ Moving into Dance Joint Season that took place at the Dance Factory from June 22 to 25 in 2005. After finalizing his extensive research on Beautiful Me, Maqoma took up residency at the Centre Nationale de la Danse, Pantin, outside Paris to prepare the South African premiere at the 2007 FNB Dance Umbrella. In 2006 and 2007 Maqoma won the Gauteng MEC Award for the group work Beautiful Us and solo Beautiful Me, respectively.


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