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‘SanDance!’ documentary explores ancient, sublime African dance tradition

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘SanDance!’ documentary explores ancient, sublime African dance tradition
A scene from the film “SanDance!” by Richard Wicksteed. PHOTO: Richard Wicksteed

In partnership with Global Arts Live, “SanDance!,” an independent documentary film about the age-old dance culture of Africa’s San (Bushman) First Peoples, will stream live on Facebook and YouTube on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. After the live broadcast, which will include a Q&A with filmmaker Richard Wicksteed, the film and conversation will be streamable on the same platforms beginning Feb. 8.

“We made ‘SanDance!’ to honour and celebrate the beauty, resilience and strength of San/Bushman culture in southern Africa, as expressed through the San’s ancient and sublime dance traditions,” reads a statement about the film. “Against all odds, San culture endures today, in the face of post-colonial cultural marginalization and ongoing cultural repression and land dispossession.”

Wicksteed began his work as an anti-apartheid journalist in the 1970s. When he was exiled to Zimbabwe in 1983, he turned to film to tell the stories of the liberation struggles and environmental issues he witnessed. Though “SanDance!” is an exploration of a spiritual, artistic and cultural practice, Wicksteed also examines the context in which the dance is performed, including the dispossession and war that have shaken the villages he visits.

“While most San communities in southern Africa are no longer allowed to practice their traditional nomadic hunting and gathering lifeway, their dance traditions continue to flourish and regenerate the essence of San cultural identity across the region,” reads the statement. This cultural practice is a way for the community to connect with their history, despite changes in the landscape around them. The San people have lived in the Kalahari Desert region for over 20,000 years. Large populations currently live in Botswana and Namibia, with smaller numbers in South Africa and Zambia.

The San dance is more than just an artistic practice. The indigenous ritual is meant to achieve an altered state of consciousness through rhythmic movements and breathing techniques. The practice is used to heal both physical illnesses and negative aspects of the community. The ritual is considered sacred and is a community effort. Around a fire, each member participates, singing and generating a beat with their hands or performing the dance itself.

This free screening aims to bring the film to communities hit hard by COVID-19. Donations and pay-what-you-can contributions will go towards Global Arts Live, San Dance performing groups and San NGO Kuru Development Trust, a cultural organization that founded the Kuru Dance Festival celebrating San culture.