In the remote wilderness of the Cederberg, a land of cedar trees, winding rivers, San /Bushman rock art and more stars than the human eye can take in, lies Bushmans Kloof, a wilderness reserve and retreat, some 3-hours north of Cape Town.
Nearby is the small village of Wupperthal. A former missionary village that rarely makes the news but has, through the magic of life’s inexplicable anomalies, found its way to Hollywood – to the prestigious World Championships of Performing Arts.
How did this happen?
Through the extraordinary feat of one man, Floris Smith, with his star team – Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers – with their unique Riel dance. Floris is the creative force behind the group. With a background in classical dance, he’s their trainer and choreographer – as well as the executive chef and deputy GM at Bushmans Kloof.
What is The Riel Dance?
Born out of traditional Khoi and San / Bushmen ceremonial dances around the fire, the Riel Dance has been practiced by descendants of these indigenous cultures for many years. It is the oldest dance form in South Africa. Riel dancers are dressed typically in traditional farm workers outfits, the girls in dresses with aprons and old frontier bonnets, and the boys in waistcoats and hats with feathers, finished with the famous, hand-made red veldskoene (shoes) from Wupperthal. The dance is a creative cultural expression, and includes courtship rituals, mimicking typical animal antics with lots of bravado, showmanship and foot stomping.
When asked why the Riel dance was unique, Floris said ‘’The Riel is part of their culture and part of their heritage. It’s something they grew up with. Their frantic footwork is not easy to copy as well as the original style of music. In all my years in theatre, this is most probably the most difficult form of dance I have come across”.
Against the odds, with no formal training, these traditional dancers have won the South African Championships of Performing Arts for the two consecutive years which entitles them to represent South Africa at the acclaimed World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood tonight!
16 talented youngsters aged 13 to 19, the team comes from the rural community of Wupperthal and other small towns in the area. Their equally talented Riel band, accompanying them to America, are from Clanwilliam, Graafwater and Wupperthal.
They are cultural ambassadors who carry the spirit of South Africa’s indigenous ways expressed through their costumes, movements and choreography. We wish them well.
Acknowledgement Tamlin Wightman