Tap, tap, tickity, tap. With red berets propped on their heads and beads of sweat shimmering on their faces they let out a huge howl. Energy fills the studio and the audience is intrigued.
Click, click, clickity clack, and so a rhythm is born. Not from their voices but from the soles of their shoes. Their bodies move in quick synchronicity to the beat of hidden silver pieces beneath their feet and the banging music.
More striking than their lime-coloured vests and camouflaged military pants is the sheer joy on their faces. They are Tembisa Revolution and have just made their presence felt in this year’s second season of et.v’s Step Up or Step Out dance show.
Their claim to fame?
A distinctive dance routine known as KasiTap!
According to Tembisa Revolution group leader Sandile Magagula, KasiTap is a form of dance that fuses traditional tap dancing and the elaborate Pantsula dance begun in the townships in the early 1980s.
Magagula said while Pantsula was renowned for Converse All-Star takkies and swift foot movements, KasiTap evoked diverse elements of rhythm using cleverly adapted coldrink cans.
“KasiTap delves into a series of genres and allows a dancer to explore a combination of dance moves. This is what makes it extraordinary,” he explained.
But the journey to this juncture in their lives hasn’t been plain-sailing. Ten years ago Magagula recalls how he and dance partners Moses Moeng, Thapelo Mabena, Abel Vilakazi and Bongani Shabangu, from the now disbanded Tembisa Cultural Group, couldn’t afford tap dancing shoes.
At one stage the group of high school pupils and close friends found themselves stewing over their financial troubles and lack of dancing shoes.
Their ideas, Magugula said, were usually formed on the dusty streets of the crime-riddled township.
“We come from a place filled with challenges that either makes or breaks a person. Tembisa is notorious for felonies, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse. We’ve encountered moments in our lives when some of our members have had nothing to eat for days. At times, we forfeited performances because we had no transport money.
“But thanks to the support of our parents, families and friends we beat the odds and are still going strong,” said Magagula.
And like Cinderella, one evening their lives were instantly changed.
They met their fairy godfather watching Lord of the Dance creator and dancer Michael Flatley on SABC.
They were blown away.
It was as though Flatley had sprinkled dust on them.
“Michael is one of a few international dancers that have made a great and a lasting impression on us. We admire his zeal, passion, dedication and the utmost respect and love he has for his craft.
“His motto is nothing is impossible… follow your dreams. As a group we constantly strive to maintain a high level of professionalism and the dedication he displays,” said Moeng.
It wasn’t long before they found a solution.
Flatley’s performance was like an epiphany.
They bought his DVD and noted the meticulous skill and rhythm flowing through his tap shoes.
The realised that an empty cooldrink can, wires and pliers were all they needed.
Far-fetched as it seemed then, drilling holes in their takkies and collecting beer bottle caps has catapulted them from young and hopeless men on to the road to stardom.
“In the beginning our strategy involved putting bottle caps under our shoes, but that failed. The caps hurt our feet as they were too small. We later decided to cut the base of an empty can and wired that to our shoes to give the clicking effect found in traditional tap dancing shoes,” explained Moeng.
Today the group boasts 15 members and is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment and dance industry with their “exclusive” tap shoes.
Moeng said they made them using any shoe – “boots, sneakers or sandals”.
While they might not be a household name just yet, members of Tembisa Revolution believe they have what it takes to transform the world of dance.
Those familiar with their routine have come to appreciate the sound that emanates from their shoes. Group member Abel Vilakazi also revealed they had performed in various provinces across the country and in Botswana and Namibia.
Their most memorable performance? “SA’s Got Talent in 2010,” he shouted.
Vilakazi said the group was still ecstatic at the warm applause they received for their performance on that show.
Although they were eliminated in the final stages, he said the group were thankful for the exposure they received.
Tembisa Revolution also perform gumboot and marabi dance routines.
Fellow group member Bongani Tshabalala said their advice to aspiring dance crews in the townships was to research their craft and love what they do.
“Because we were struck with adversity many times, we are successful today because we have always stuck to what we believe in and have maintained a huge respect for our work,” he said.
And should they win the grand prize at this year’s competition, Vilakazi said the group would enrol its members to study further, to bring management skills to their work.
Argentinian Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara said: “Revolution is not an apple that falls once it is ripe. You have to make it fall.
This energetic group of young men said they had the skills needed to rattle any tree to get their ripe apples.
“We are determined to take the world by storm. That is what revolution is about,” Vilakazi said.