For a chosen few dancing is a means of pure expression that enables to explore a side of their true selves. And with so many different genres/styles of dance available to adopt, choosing your kinetic narrative has become an important one because there is a difference in dancing because you can dance to tell a story. Well this is a challenge dancer, Lee Lenela, has overcome from the moment she made up her mind to become the only female Pantsula dancer in her crew. We should all know by now that the subculture that is Pantsula has over decades grown into a form of South African heritage… Since starting out around the 1950s, AmaPantsula have evolved from being looked at as “gangsters” who had bad intentions. Today the rise of Pantsula is within a continuation that has put the SA national treasure onto world stages. With that said Lee Lenela has made her mark as a member of the Soweto-based dance crew Intellectuals Pantsula, through her Pantsula development and training that has pushed her beyond society & circumstance expectations… HYPE got the chance to ask her some questions about her story and how she has gotten to the place that she is in now. And as one of the three protagonists leading up the current Nike #AllFor1JHB competition, make sure you enter the Force Battle by submitting a video on social media of you and your crew (minimum of 5 crew members over the ages of 16) using the hashtag #AllFor1JHB.
First question why do you do what you do?
Uhm… well [laughs] what I do is dancing Pantsula and I do it for a living. Basically, I’m just about originality & authenticity and Pantsula is just that. You know growing up in my community some guys were dancing Pantsula and they looked so mature, they looked so clean in their nice attire and I thought to myself, I’ve got to look like that because growing up I was sort of a tomboy and it kind has my identity. And yeah I just love dancing, I love being in peoples eyes, I love expressing myself and just being out there. I basically love attention [Laughs].
Tell us how does being the only female Pantsula crew member feel like?
Firstly it’s awesome especially after the performance, the attention that you get from people and also the surprise in their reactions because when you perform with the guys they just never spot that there’s a guy in the crew until they see close up… They like wow you’re a girl, I’m like “you thought I was a fat boy?” You know? Because I’m bigger in size than the guys. And yeah it’s quite an experience also… Yes, it may have its disadvantages body wise because I was that our structure is different from the males and we also do things that are physically challenging like handstands, lifts, and acrobatics. So sometimes it becomes a challenge but on the first attempt… But because I’m a persistent person, always eager to learn to advance myself at the end of the day it’s great I won’t lie.
What have some of the challenges you’ve faced not only as a female Pantsula dancer but just as a dancer per se?
OK, most of the challenges I’ve faced is being a Pantsula dancer… Firstly we don’t get well recognized gigs because people just undermine Pantsula because when they see us their first impression is that we’re thugs and if they invite us into their environment we’re going to vandalize or end up stealing things you know? But I think it’s just a stereotype because back in the days they were a group of gangs which used to steal, they liked the Pantsula dress code so there was a time when we dressed the same. People couldn’t differentiate but now we’re over that era and now Pantsula is just about the business and giving entertainment to the people. So it’s really hard to get jobs which are well paying.. if people hire pantsula (dancers) they just think that they can give them 500 bucks and it’s not enough… And also being able to put our shows in theaters as Pantsula dancers it’s quite a challenge because once you propose and you’re a Pantsula dancer they don’t take us seriously because they think that we’re not trained as them but we actually train people how to dance.
Did you ever think that you would get to this level when you started out?
Not really because when I started out it was just about the fame, the attention and just being away from home on weekends, running away from chores but in 2013 after I finished my Matric (2012) I just thought about making a career out of it and honestly I did pray about, I worked hard and I knew that one day I would be where I am today.
And how has you dancing or you being a Pantsula dancer changed your life personally and maybe those around you too?
I could say that dancing Pantsula took me out of the streets because after I finished my Matric I couldn’t afford to further my studies, you know to go to university because I aspired to be an esterel scientist or a metallurgical engineer but I couldn’t due to financial constraints and then I went back to dancing so I could really say it really saved my life. And also being a Pantsula dancer has changed people’s perspectives, people in my community because now I’m a testimony to them that Pantsula is quite a really good culture and a good lifestyle that one can lead. And they can see from my successes that there’s a future in dancing and in dancing Pantsula.
Why do you think makes Pantsula a force of change?
Pantsula is a force of change because firstly it is indigenous in South Africa, we don’t have it anywhere else except in the borders of South Africa and I am a proud pioneer of Pantsula so it is a fire force battle because once you compete with Pantsula and let’s say you compete in South Africa and you have people from overseas, you’re actually the international standard you know? And if people from Europe want to learn Pantsula they look up to me… like how people look into overseas fro hip hop… yeah and I’m a proud patriot, service comrade of Pantsula.
Nike is looking for the dopest dance crew this side of the hemisphere! Fire Force Battle will reveal the hottest crews on these Jozi streets. Enter by submitting a video on social media of you and your crew (minimum of 5 crew members over the ages of 16) using the hashtag #AllFor1JHB. The Fire Force Battle will take place at Sport Scene Sandton on the 12 October and the winners will perform on the main stage at Capsule Festival on the 26th of October. Come through and show your fire #AllFor1JHB