Spectacle of Zulu dance

Zulu dancers will be competing for trophies and prizes in Durban on March 21, at the 10th annual Ingoma dance event arranged by The Playhouse Company.


IT’S that time of year when Durban’s Playhouse Company gets ready to present the traditional Ingoma dance competition, Sishaya Ingoma, now in its 10th year. The venue will again be Durban’s Currie’s Fountain, near Botanic Gardens on the Berea.

The only event of its kind in South Africa – and presented free to the public – the spectacle runs from 9am on Saturday, March 21, and puts the focus on varied dance styles associated with the Zulu culture.

Joy Mbewana, Mdu Jali and Zim Dollar will act as master of ceremonies on the big day, when talented groups from throughout KwaZulu-Natal will assemble to compete for trophies and prizes  in a competition that attracts countrywide public interest.

“We are extremely pleased to once again present this colourful and vibrant, open-air event as part of our artistic programme. Our Ingoma competition is one of the highlights of The Playhouse Company’s calendar,” says Linda Bukhosini, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of The Playhouse Company, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture, which embraces the government’s principles of social cohesion and nation-building.

“As part of our endeavours to promote and preserve traditional art forms, The Playhouse Company is once again reaching out to those whose culture embraces traditional dance styles that form part of KwaZulu-Natal’s rich heritage,” she adds.

“Ingoma” is an isiZulu term that literally translates as “anthem”, albeit that these days it tends to refer to the colourfully varied dance styles within the Zulu culture, particularly in the competitive arena.

Dance groups entered in the 2020 competition, all of them attired in colourful costumes, will be judged on performances in categories that involve movements with symbolic meaning: Omama Besigekle, Ingoma Yesinsizwa, Ushameni, Ingoma Yezintombi, Ingoma Sikhuze and Indlamu.

Each of these dance styles, often seen in the Zulu culture as a medium through which to communicate history, is traditionally performed by people of a particular age, gender and status. The traditional purpose of the dances is to mark or celebrate, for example, a particular season, or a special event such as a wedding.

Six different traditional Zulu dance styles will be featured at the March 21 Sishaya Ingoma competition event.

Choreography and body positions are highly specific to particular dance styles and regions – and these dance styles may vary from region to region, even from village to village. Spectators often show their appreciation by ululating (“ukukikizela”) and showing their backs (“ukushikila”).

The six different styles of traditional dance, in more detail, are as follows:


This style was created for women, ideally married women, as an alternative to Amahubo, a dance strictly for men chanting to ancestors. Performed at weddings, Omama Besigekle is accompanied by singing, clapping and drumming, and dancers avoid raising their feet too high to show respect. Dancers wear headgear (“isicholo”) and traditional skirts (“isidwaba”). They carry small shields and knobkerries and each group has a specific theme and costume colour scheme.


Accompanied by singing, clapping and drumbeats, this highly exciting dance form features bare feet and traditional costumes, including a form of animal-skin apron (“ibheshu’). The dance is commonly performed during young men’s rite of passage formalities, as well as at weddings and other traditional ceremonies. It is most distinctive for the dancer having to keep a leg straight while kicking it up to reach the side of the ears. Dancers carry shields and decorated sticks.


Performed with big shields and long sticks, this is a beguiling, striking war dance that was introduced by Shaka Zulu to psyche up his Amabutho (warriors) while they were being prepared for battle. Resembling a military drill with strict precision, the dance style has dancers following a specific pattern, accompanied by drums and minimal singing. A lot of showing off is highlighted, accompanied by much loud whistling, to lend encouragement to whoever is dancing at the time.


Named after the Shameni River in Umsinga, KwaZulu-Natal, this style was formed at a time when railways were being built. It is a variation of Ingoma yezinsizwa, mixed with Indlamu, but with a regional flair. Dancers bend one leg during the dance to show the ankle, and they follow specific line formations, stretching their hands up high, while accompanied by singers who also clap. The dancers wear pants and vests or T-shirts, as well as traditional sandals (“udabuluzwane”).


This colourful dance is specific to maidens. It is linked to different rite-of-passage ceremonies for young girls – such as when they reach puberty, undergo virginity tests or to celebrate lobola and weddings. The dance is accompanied by drumming, clapping and singing, and the music is highly energetic. The dancers’ costumes are traditional skirts made from colourful beads. A requirement of the dance is that legs have to be raised high.


This dance, another variation of Ingoma yezinsizwa, originated in the Umbumbulu region, becoming popular after the arrival of the missionaries. A pattern formation, known as “isifuba”, performed by more experienced dancers, is at the centre of this dance style. It is supported by “isipani”, referring to dancers that shadow whatever is done by “isifuba:. The typical costume consists of thigh-length socks with stripes and short skirts (sometimes rugby shorts). The leg is not raised very high in this dance, for which dancers carry shields and traditional sticks which are also used to create formations. Accompaniment is via song and hand-clapping (“ukukhwahla”:).

NOTE: For further information about Sishaya Ingoma contact Khulekani Kunene on (031) 369 9440 or visit www.playhousecompany.com.

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