Even before formal Apartheid, South African music told stories of survival through struggle. Isicathamiya, which is a Zulu word that means, depending who you ask, “to stalk like a cat” or “tip toe guys,” originated among 19th black South Africans forced to work in gold and diamond mines. These workers sang Christian hymns, they sang about their home villages, they sang about their difficult lives…all in a heartbreakingly harmonious a capella form that was quiet enough not to wake their nighttime guards. As part of isicathamiya the miners created a form of toe-tapping dancing called “isicathulo,” which in Zulu roughly means “gumboots.” Singers tapped their feet in a sort of Morse Code while dancing to communicate with each other down mine shafts. (In class we’ll try a bit of isicathulo.)
PLEASE NOTE: The lesson and embedded video are NOT “How to do gumboot dancing” tutorials. The goal of this lesson is to provide the tools for you to treat your very youngest students to their first introduction to gumboot dancing and to inspire you to get up and dance together. (Your dance moves can’t be any worse than mine!) Ideally the lesson will be the first step on your and your students’ road to further South African exploration.