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How to Gumboot Dance like a South African

Updated Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Wanna learn how to gumboot dance like a South African?

The Isicathulo, or gumboot dance, is a traditional African dance done in Wellington boots known simply, in South Africa, as gumboots.

The dance is a dance of life; a celebration of what it is to be human. At the end of the rhythmic, earth beating and easy to learn dance, you’ll feel like a better person for the experience.

Follow these steps to learn how to gumboot dance, as if you’ve been doing it your whole life:

Here’s How to Gumboot Dance, Like a South African

  • Don a pair of gumboots, preferably black ones, but ye common garden wellies will also do the trick.
  • For extra effect, embellish your boots with bells, so that when you hit the ground, there is an additional jangle, or wear bells on your wrists.
  • Raise one of your legs, bent at the knee, so that your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  • Hunch forward over your raised leg, raising your arms at the same time.
  • Hit either side of the gumboot of your raised leg with a right hand, left hand, right hand again, to the count of 1, 2, 3.
  • And then plant that raised foot back onto the ground with a resounding smack on the count of 4, letting your gravity settle, for just that beat, with both feet planted equally on the ground.
  • Now raise the other leg and do the same thing – 1, 2, 3 down on 4.
  • Build this rhythmic hitting of either side of the boot to raised, alternate legs, into a pattern – 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • Good!
  • Now you add what’s known as ‘the posture’ – your body is bent, as if you’re almost sitting, tail out, knees bent, weight of the body over the knees – this makes it really easy to then lift alternate legs, because the weight of the body is equally distributed over the bent legs (it helps you from falling over).
  • Now that you’ve got the basic 1, 2, 3 down rhythm going nicely, you count down: 1, 2, 3 down (twice), then 1, 2 down (twice), then 1, 1, 1 down with a ‘hey!’.
  • It helps hugely if someone starts clicking the rhythm before hand, so that there’s a count in, or the whole thing can end up a shambles.
  • You know how to gumboot dance!

A bit more practice, and you could end up looking like this:

Do a YouTube search for learn how to gumboot dance, and you’ll find a number of variations of the traditional 1, 2, 3 down that we’ve outlined for you above.


Image Credit: Top image by and © Gabi Falanga