Nama Riel Dance

Cultural / Entertainment / Miscellaneous in or near Williston, Upper Karoo in the Northern Cape, South Africa.

Northern Cape Tourist AttractionsNama Riel Dance

Where? Where to see it: the Williston Winter Festival, Carnarvon, Calvinia, Leliefontein and beyond.

Overnight? Stay in Williston, in Northern Cape

Nama Riel dance, Williston, Northern Cape

Described as ‘dancing in the dust’ and ‘more like a cactus tango or Jitterbug’ the Nama Riel dance is in the grips of a revival that has brought it to the attention of visitors who can’t resist the opportunity to see it in action.

Riel or Rieldans has its roots in the Khoisan tradition where it originated as a celebratory dance. It’s thought to be one of the oldest indigenous dancing styles in South Africa. The Nama people call it the Ikhapara, but the ‘riel’ title is probably borrowed from the Scottish ‘reel’, which describes a Scottish folk dance. Colonial influence is also evident in the form the dance has taken - there are obvious Scottish/Irish jig movements.

It became the dance of sheep shearers and farm workers through the 1940s and 1950s. Add to that the beat of boeremusiek (Afrikaans folk music) with an emphasis on the tin guitar, or ramkie, and violin, to which it is most often performed, and you get a totally original dance, the most outstanding feature of which is its frantic footwork. This is not a slow dance; this is a ‘dans lat die stof so staan’ - dance until the dust is in the air!

Nama Riel is essentially a group ‘courtship’ dance (the girls stay on one side whilst the boys mock-battle in an attempt to outdo one another with flashy moves and big hats), usually performed in a circle, with a myriad gestures that way back would have told a story. These moves are thought to originate from local animal courtship, in particular the ostrich, but there is reference to antelope, baboon, snake, horse, rooster and even butterfly.

At one stage the Nama Riel was in danger of dying a death, when the ATKV (Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuur Vereniging - Afrikaans Language and Cultural Association) began encouraging competitions across the Northern and Western Cape in a bid to revive it.

Then the Williston Winter Festival began, introducing the Nama Riel as one of its highlights. Now it’s the major attraction with dance groups arriving to perform from across the Cape.

Local schools in both the Northern and Western Cape offer Rield dancing to their pupils.

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