Cape Town dancer, choreographer and storyteller Stoan Galela is giving back to his community, one move at a time.
Mthuthuzeli Stoan "Move" Galela considers himself a mover, not a dancer. "A mover is someone who uses dance as a weapon of positivity and brings joy in their community. A mover knows no bounds to their potential," says Stoan during our interview with him.
The documentary My Father the Mover follows the accomplished dancer as he passes the baton, teaching his daughter Aleta Galela how to dance. The documentary won first prize under the Best Documentary category at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2020, and was recently acquired by MTVBase. Father the Mover is in collaboration with director, writer and producer Julia Jansch.
Galela was around age seven or eight when he began dancing, in the 90s, in his home township of Gugulethu, Cape Town. With a twenty-plus-year career, Stoan, now 32, has choreographed music videos for some of South Africa's biggest artists.
One such video is Prince Kaybee's 2019 hit single "Gugulethu", named after Cape Town's second-largest township. It was only fitting that he filmed the video on location and included local talent as well. Stoan didn't only render his choreography services but made an appearance too. Towards the end of 2020, he worked with folk artist Jeremy Loops for his "Til I Found You" music video, alongside Vuyolwethu Vuvu Nompetsheni. He and Nompetsheni play the main characters in the video.
Prince Kaybee - Gugulethu ft. Indlovukazi, Supta, Afro Brothers www.youtube.com
Stoan's journey started in Gugulethu when he would religiously observe his dance instructor neighbour. "They taught young people dance and I would always watch when they gathered for practice sessions," Stoan recalls. "At the time I was not allowed to enter the premises and watch them dance. So I would always observe through the fence."
Laying the foundation
The preferred dance at the time was amaDamara, a style popularised by South African musician Freddie Gwala in the 90s. Born in Soweto, Gwala invented a music genre called zumba, which was a fusion of soul music and disco. Naturally, amaDamara became the dance style Stoan would mimic in the beginning of his career. The elders would always ask him to dress up like Freddie Gwala — who was a big fan of long sleeve shirts, Fedora hats and Crocket and Jones shoes — and dance amaDamara. This was his early encounter with entertaining audiences.
The young dancer started gaining popularity as a regular competitor at dance competitions held at JL Zwane and Sports Complex, community centres in the township Gugulethu which hold a great arts and culture history in the township. The competitions, which took place every Friday at the time, were popular and attracted the masses and dancers from different areas.
Khayelitsha Vibes (Dance Film) www.youtube.com
Today, Stoan runs dance and movement classes titled United Township Dancers in Khayelitsha, which take in students aged five and upwards. The classes specialise and offer township dance styles — namely Banger, Sjokojoko, Pantsula, Kwasa and Contemporary as an additional dance genre. United Township Dancers have participated in numerous competitions, even walking away with first prize at the SA Navy Festival in 2016.
Through United Township Dancers, Stoan aims to help build young people's confidence. There are students who have been with United Township Dancers since its inception in 2013, he shares, and these students are now in their final year of high school. The parents are very involved with the programme, he adds. "Essentially when you're a dancer, you constantly have to use your mind to stretch yourself. This, in turn, gives you strength as an individual to make sound decisions about your life," explains Stoan.
Reminiscing on his days as a young dancer, Stoan pays tribute to a Gugulethu dance crew called iCaducci. The crew, which boasted over 10 members and specialised in isiPantsula, was a big inspiration in the community. Caducci not only inspired Stoan, but an entire generation of dancers in Gugulethu and surrounding areas. Their dance routines had a special focus on storytelling, something that is now a big blueprint in Stoan's dance career.
Jeremy Loops - 'Til I Found You www.youtube.com
This storytelling element is palpable in the dance videos Stoan curates alongside members of United Township Dancers. The storylines vary from a character in the video helping an elder with grocery parcels to pursuing a crush in another. Being a filmmaker, Stoan has merged his two skill sets. Using his phone to film and edit, he makes dance videos based on characters and familiar stories about things and people in his community. The videos are always met with great enthusiasm, with some of his most popular videos having gotten over 33 000 YouTube views.
Dance against gangsterism
The mentorship opportunities provided by United Township Dancers challenge young people to open themselves up to possibilities beyond their immediate circumstances. Stoan believes that dance creates positive awareness of self and one's surroundings. In Cape Town for instance, gangsterism has a long-standing history that dates back to Apartheid. For Stoan dance is a symbol of overcoming and perseverance.
For Stoan, dance is a symbol of overcoming and perseverance. "When I began dancing back in the day, dancers were more prevalent than gangsters," he recalls. But things have changed. In some areas, Turf wars prevent young people from moving around as they please. But when one is recognised as a dancer they are not harassed as much. Dance does close the violence and turf wars gap amongst the youth," he says.
In addition to exposing his students to a crime-free side of life, Stoan is also determined to prove that making money from art is possible. And he is a living testament to this. His current mission is to build a dance studio. Hard work and mental strength have been Stoan's greatest companions on this journey.
At the moment, United Township Dancers are raising funds to build a dance studio and home for their members. You can lend a helping hand here.