From Gumboots to Stepping

A couple of years ago I got a DVD out of the library (I cannot remember the title) and I saw, for the first time, the dance style called Stepping. In this dance, the whole body is used by the dancer as percussion instrument to produce rhythms and sounds using a combination of steps, words and hand claps. The final dance scene from the film Stomp the Yard shows the intricacy of some of the choreography the groups come up with when stepping. Enjoy this snippet from the film featuring the final dance scene:

When I first saw stepping, I was reminded of an African dance that I have always enjoyed: Gumboot Dancing. This movement was first danced by the black miners in South African gold mines as an alternative way to the drumming that had been prohibited by the authorities. The gumboots (Wellington boots) were decorated with bottle caps so that they could make a ringing sound as the boots were stamped on the ground. As they move, the dancers call out words or phrases. Watch this video and listen to the percussion sounds that they make:

The gumboot dance finds its origins in the Zulu tribal dances which were adapted for the new surroundings. Stepping stems from African tribal dancing and has echoes of gumboot dancing. Not surprising then that the first time I saw stepping it reminded me of the dances I used to enjoy watching as a child.

What are your thoughts on Gumboot Dancing and Stepping?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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29 thoughts on “From Gumboots to Stepping

  1. Hi,
    Brilliant moves, I have seen these dances before in movies etc. I didn’t know what they were called though. I watched the first video for just over 4 mins, and just amazing moves, you can tell that there was a lot of work put into these moves, so brilliantly done.
    I was also impressed with the second video, again fantastic moves that I assume they put together themselves.

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    1. Yes they did. They do the gumboot dancing without music (unlike stepping) unless they are singing themselves. When you watch the Zulu tribal dances, you can see where many of these moves come from.

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  2. Wow Colline
    I just watched both videos and they are really inspiring! I was just thinking of the energy that the dancers put into each move and it reminded me of how as a teen, when things were upsetting that music and dance always were my outlet for the most painful experiences. The vigorous movement seems to release the tension and improve sense of well-being. And, dancing in a group together is even better because what you can produce as a group is much greater than what you can accomplish on your own…and you feel connected with others, too, which also helps to decrease tension, emotional pain and anxiety.
    I enjoyed watching both these videos, Colline. Thanks for sharing!!!

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    1. I heard something interesting a couple of years ago: that gumboot dancing is now the rage in some parts of Johannesburg as an aerobic exercise – I can see that you would definitely burn a lot of calories doing this dance!

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  3. This is amazing! You’ve broadened my world yet again! You know what is really weird? I’ve been working in my garden quite a bit this week and I was thinking this morning about how my mother used to say she’d go put her “gumboots” on. I was wondering why they called them gumboots….I get on the computer and lo and behold…..You’ve posted a video on gumboots…what are the odds?

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    1. We have always called rainboots – or wellingtons – this in South Africa. We do not wear them when it rains. Instead workers wear them for their work: in the mines, or in construction. I supposed this footwear has this name because it is made from rubber.

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  4. I’ve seen Stepping performed before, Colline, but Gumboot dancing is new to me. These dance forms must be somehow connected, even if the current day participants have no knowledge of it. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I’ve really enjoyed the gum boot dancing every time I’ve watched it. When I was teaching music at school, some of the boys did this dance for the end of year concert. It was thrilling to see how well they performed.

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