Strandfontein Secondary School will be showing they have what it takes at this year’s Cape Town Carnival with a dazzling performance of a uniquely South African style of dance, song and fashion. “Umswenko: Move to Your Own Beat” involves a diverse group of young learners performing alongside celebrated dancers like John Nunkani, Uyanda Mchunu, Andrea Jacobs, Aphiwe Sodlamba and Bongani Mzizi.
Showcasing unbridled artistry from communities right across the Peninsula and farther afield, Cape Town Carnival takes place on Human Rights Day, 21 March, on the Green Point Fan Walk. This year’s theme is “Incredible Journey: Sounds of South Africa”.
School principal, Jean Prinsloo says, “Strandfontein Secondary is the only high school in the Strandfontein community, and is a beacon of hope for a mixed community that has a few informal settlements such as 7de Laan and Plasie.”
One of several highly colourful and vibrant pods that combines a float with performing artists, dancers and community groups, “Umswenko: Move to Your Own Beat” will feature a 40-strong group of talented learners from Strandfontein and Cape Flats suburbs like Pelican Heights, Pelican Park, Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and Nyanga, all dancing behind a float reminiscent of township and urban environments, featuring lead dancers, “amaswank”, strutting their stuff.
“We’re giving new meaning to this super-stylish form of South African dance, song and fashion,” says Portia Keeble-Mercuur, a teacher at Strandfontein Secondary. Umswenko was originally expressed by miners as a way of celebrating life beyond the hardships of day-to-day work, using song, dance and fashion as a way out of their grim reality. In its new incarnation, it is once again enlivening a group of people in difficult circumstances, giving them a sense of purpose, joy and unity.
“We’ve been practising rigorously for about a month now, sacrificing intervals, practising after school, and even doing three-hour sessions on a Saturday,” says Judith Simmers, one of the choreographers. Led and choreographed by Simmers, Fadley Hamsa and Merissa Schrikker, the group has evolved quickly into a safe place of fun, friendship, laughter and
brilliance. Keeble-Mercuur says there’s a buzz, a vibrancy among the learners that wasn’t there before, and that the many hours of practising and togetherness have enabled the children to build new friendships, keep them out of harm’s way, and open their minds to new possibilities.
Recalling how it all started, Keeble-Mercuur tells the story of how a teacher, caught up in “the gees and magic” of being a part of the 50 000-strong Carnival crowd in a past year, “ran right along the parade route, next to the floats and through the crowds.” “I think, for her, and for us, to see the absolute joy, pride and confidence on the bright young faces of those passing performers, spotting some of our very own learners shimming in the belly dance, was something to behold and we as a school just had to get involved.”
Prinsloo points out that this expression of creativity is just one of a number of aspects of learner development at Strandfontein Secondary. “Our aim, and a winning formula for the community at large, is to holistically develop learners rather than just focus on academic prowess,” she says. “The arts play a crucial role in the day-to-day development of our learners, and this has a knock-on effect on parents, siblings, family members and neighbours. It instils in them a sense of pride and hope.”
Strandfontein Secondary is hoping that their participation in this year’s Carnival will prompt other schools to get involved with future Carnivals.