South Africa’s riel dancers bring back gold


    riel_Die_Nuwe_Graskoue_Trappers_facebook_main Die Bushmans Kloof Nuwe Graskoue Trappers set the bar high recently when they took part in their first international competition. (Image: Bushmans Kloof)

    It’s the thing that makes their hearts tick. And now, after more than a week in the United States, it is also the thing that allows Die Bushmans Kloof Nuwe Graskoue Trappers to bring home three gold medals and a silver, along with a buckets of pride.

    The riel dance group from Wupperthal, the impoverished town in the Cederberg, Western Cape, for the first time showcased their skills on an international stage for Team South Africa, at the 19th Annual World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles. They are expected to return to their homes by this afternoon.

    They represented South Africa with something that was owned by them, said Floris Smith, the manager of the dance group, Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers. He was referring to the riel dance – known as Africa’s oldest dance. This dance is what makes the hearts of Smith’s team tick. “It is in our soul. Our children is born with it and they grew up with the riel,” he said.

    The championships took place from 10 to 19 July. After a few workshops and a boot camp with delegates from all over the world, the team took the stage on opening night and was said to have blown the crowd away.

    riel_Die_Nuwe_Graskoue_Trappers_opening_article Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers at the opening of WCOPA in Los Angeles. (Image: Facebook)


    On 12 July, Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers competed against six other countries in the Production Line Competition. Their performance consisted of riel dancing, gumboot dancing, riel tap and the five-piece band that led the dancers. They won the gold medal, followed by France taking silver and Philippines bronze.

    On the same day, Dr Ellen Roux, the national director of the South African and Namibian Team, walked away with the Best Director’s Trophy as well as the bronze for the Best Costume.

    Later in the competition, Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers won gold in the Ethnic Folk Dance Category with their riel dancing.

    riel_Die_Nuwe_Graskoue_Trappers_tap_article Jobry Swart and Zarion Samson who won the Division Award in the Open Dance and Tap Category, landed a one-month scholarship with Millennium Dance Company. (Image: Facebook)

    Two of the dancers – Jobry Swart and Zarion Samson – also took the Division Award in the Open Dance and Tap Category, landing a one-month scholarship with Millennium Dance Company. The silver medal was awarded for the gumboot routine in the same category.

    They also made it through to the semi-finals of the Grand Champion Dance Group of the World Award, as one of only three acts across the globe, said the Trappers’ marketing team.

    Other awards included silver medals for the band in the Instrumental Open, Instrumental Jazz and Instrumental Original categories, and guitarist Efraum Kotze’s bronze medal in the Instrumental Open Trio category.

    “This is the ultimate reward for all the hard work we’ve put in over the past three years and all the sacrifices we’ve made,” said Smith.

    “We can hold our heads up high now knowing that we have shown the world that we are among the best of the best. Our gold and silver medals belong not only to us but to the community of Wupperthal, to Bushmans Kloof and its owners the Tollman family, and to all the people of South Africa who believed in us and supported us. Thank you. You gave us the wings to fly.”

    The team shared their excitement on Facebook, with many supporters posting their congratulations:


    Our 1st GOLD for the World Championships of Performing Arts.BEST GROUP PRODUCTION 2015!!!!

    Posted by Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers on Sunday, July 12, 2015


    Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat, This one is for you!!!

    Posted by Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers on Monday, July 13, 2015

    Some proud South Africans also gave their support:



    According to the news portal Netwerk24, the 11 members of Bushmans Kloof Nuwe Graskoue Trappers who went to Los Angeles were between the ages of 12 and 19. The group also won the ninth Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV) Riel Dance Championships in 2014 as the best junior team. In Los Angeles, they took part in 10 categories, including the traditional folk dance.

    Cindy van Rooy, one of the dancers, told the news portal SABC that she was honoured to compete on an international stage. “In our community, it is only my sister and I that went overseas. My whole community and my family feels good about this achievement.”


    Born out of traditional Khoi and San ceremonial dances around the fire, the riel has been practiced by descendants of these indigenous cultures for many years. Riel dancers typically dress in traditional farm workers’ outfits, the girls in dresses with aprons and old frontier bonnets, and the boys in waistcoats and hats adorned with feathers, finished with the famous, hand-made red veldskoene (ankle boots) from Wupperthal.

    This traditional dance form is recognised as a creative cultural expression, and includes courtship rituals, mimicking typical animal antics along with lots of bravado, showmanship and foot stomping.

    Dr Michael le Cordeur, the president of the ATKV and the deputy president of the Afrikaans Language Monument, describes the riel as a dance that can build bridges between language communities, and one that can unite Afrikaans-speaking people.

    Smith told documentary makers Goosebump Productions that his team planned to preserve what they did for as long as they could. “It is important that we preserve our heritage, our tradition, our culture. As we know, right across the world traditions are dying out, especially in this community. It [the riel] is giving a sense of identity to the children.

    “It is important that we preserve what is own to our country and that which is own to our region,” he said.

    Before the trip to Los Angeles, Smith said that there was much excitement in the community. “Everybody is standing together, wanting their children to succeed on the international stage.”

    Bertie Zaas, one of the musicians, agreed, and said his heart’s desire was that the youth be educated. “I felt I wanted to be part of the riel. I want them to take it to a higher level.”