‘Dancing’ in South Africa took on a whole new dimension when I moved here from the UK. When we first met, my wife told me that she loved to dance; my first thought (being from the UK) was that this was the type of dancing one would do in a nightclub to either a current chart number, or cheesy 70/80/90s tune. In South Africa, this type of non-structured arm flailing is termed ‘loose dancing’, whilst ‘social’ dancing is the more refined, ballroom-type affair, which includes yet another popular South African past-time, the langarm; known affectionately as ‘windsurfing’.
Ballroom or ‘grab-a-partner’ dancing in the UK is something which is usually reserved for ‘other people’, and by this I mean not involving oneself, i.e. celebrities on shows such as ‘Dancing with the Stars’, or children with parents who make them attend dance classes so that they can either pursue a unfulfilled dream through their kids, or take up a ‘hobby by association’. Here in South Africa couples dancing is viewed in a completely different light. The majority of youngsters know how to ‘langarm’ and have grown up being able to dance, from early-on in their childhood years and through attending high-school proms, weddings etc.
I could see I was already on a ‘back-foot’, so to speak, when I started to learn how to langarm and my brain initially struggled to coordinate dance moves with keeping time to the music. Luckily enough my mum is from a Caribbean nation and I had enough in-built reserves of right brain creativity and ‘Riddem’, to assist me in my pursuit of langarm perfection. Ok, so by ‘perfection’ I mean (at the very least) mastering of the basic steps and a few fancy twirls, which look awesome to the casual observer but are quite easy to pull off with a bit of practice.
Presently we attend dance classes and the ‘sokkie’ (another name for langarm; ‘sakkie-sakkie’, ‘kotteljons’ and ‘water-pomp’ referencing a few other name alternatives) is one of the dances which we are learning how to dance….properly! To complicate matters further, the sokkie-style which we are being taught has different steps to the one which I originally learnt through my wife’s home schooling and there are altogether about three different variants. This figure does not include the variant which you might have the opportunity to observe following a rugby game, where some of the guys do little more than shuffle around on a piece of grass outside the stadium, draped over their female partners, to music which is being played by the mobile catering van – ref. Loftus Stadium Super 14 Final, 2009: Blou Bulle versus the Chiefs.
I must say, that it never ceases to amaze me when Afrikaans people comment on the fact that I can sokkie and ‘verstaan ‘n bietjie’ Afrikaans as a foreigner and relative newcomer to the country. I mentioned earlier that the majority of people can langarm, however there are still a few – my boss, off the top of my head – who will openly admit to not being able to social dance. Being able to sokkie is such a useful life skill to have as it is usually the dance of choice at weddings and new-year celebration get-togethers. My portfolio of moves has stood me in good stead when it comes to South African societal integration!
It probably won’t be a surprise to learn that there are entire hang-outs dedicated to sokkie dance sessions. There is an extensive variety of dance technique and competency on display at such venues, extending from the bottom level mincers and shufflers, right up to couples who obviously spend WAY too long polishing up their dance routines. I tend to stay well away from the latter as they can overshadow in an instant, turning my otherwise fancy twirls into fairground sparklers in the face of finale-type fireworks. If you regularly, or even occasionally, frequent sokkie venues you may have also observed some of the more memorable and interesting sokkie techniques:
- The Sokkie Cyclone – a couple to avoid, as they spin and weave their way around the dance floor at breakneck speed, barging aside anyone who chooses to step into their path.
- Jack the Ripper – on a crowded night, there is always at least one couple who will slice through dance floor bottlenecks using their leading arms to amputate any outstretched limbs on obstructing couples.
- Meneer and Mevrou Shaky Hand – pay close attention to the guy’s right lead arm (girl’s left). It will bounce up and down all the way through an entire sokkie number (according to my wife, this is extremely bad technique).
Most places I’ve been to in South Africa have their fair share of langarm establishments, but to mention a few – Presley’s in Pretoria, the Wild Boar in Bloemfontein and Outlaws in Parys, are all places you can windsurf to a mixture of speeded-up versions of Belinda Carlisle tracks, Euro-pop (that’s right…Basehunter has a not-too-shabby following in South African because of langarm!) and folky line-dance items.
“Dance, dance d’amour,
kissing the night tonight toujours,
’cause when the dance is all over,
we do a sweet Bossa Nova…”