Gregory Maqoma.
Gregory Maqoma.
Image: Steve Tanchel for Wanted.

Gregory Maqoma is soft-spoken and charming, yet deeply intense, in a disarmingly sensitive way about his passion for dance and its potential as a vehicle of social change. He is truly an icon of the SA artistic space yet also an incredibly empathetic and well-rounded individual who considers every aspect of his creations and identity with intrinsic sensitivity and understanding.

Maqoma was born in Soweto in 1973 and has since become an icon of dance, artistic expression and choreography in SA and beyond. Maqoma has always used movement to escape from, reflect and cope with political and social tensions. He has been among the most vocal of advocates for the fair treatment of artists, much to the department of sports, arts and culture’s chagrin.  

He founded Vuyani Dance Theatre in 1999 and has won several awards for his work since, such as the FNB Vita Choreographer of the Year in 1999, 2001 and 2002, the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance in 2002, the 2012 Tunkie Award for Leadership in Dance and in 2017, the French Government awarded Maqoma the honorific Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres, among many other accolades.

How did you get into dancing and choreography?

I watched the movement of people. I saw Michael Jackson once on television and how he will just do simple things like taking off a hand glove, and he got the crowd to cry, to scream, to want a piece of him. I once walked into a hostel, which housed migrant workers from different parts of Southern Africa, I was mind blown by their physicality, by sweat dripping down their bodies; I saw the body as a form of attraction and the male body as a form of attraction.

Those movements, that’s what made me say to myself that I want to do that, that I want to use dance as a vehicle to break stereotypes and allow people to be moved by the body’s movements. To communicate ideas, communicate dreams and to communicate via stories through movement. That's what got me into dance.

I allow my masculinity to defend our relationship and not define our relationship.

I'm a choreographer dancer, creative director. I'm starting now also to make films. I have lived a very broad artistic journey, which started with dances and it is so amazing to see it emerge and just grow such amazing ways.

How has masculinity affected you?

I was raised by two parents and unfortunately my father passed on, but the dynamic of that relationship was very strange for me, the power of a male in the house, defining how things are going to be set up in our household. I always wanted to change that, in my own setting, even in my gay relationship. I look at my masculinity as a marriage, in the sense that everything needs to be on an equal basis. I allow my masculinity to defend our relationship and not define our relationship.

Gregory Maqoma.
Gregory Maqoma.
Image: Steve Tanchel for Wanted.

As a male dancer, particularly on this continent (Africa), if you're looking in terms of the contemporary dance, there's always that notion that male dancers are gay or soft. You find yourself having to define these things all the time. While within traditional African dance, it is a strong part of culture and tradition, and it is acceptable. Once you cross into the western form of dance, you get labelled in different ways and your masculinity is somehow interrupted and defined very differently.

And how have you balanced that?

I think my work, in itself, questions these ideas — tradition and patriarchy — that are only acceptable when they fit within one’s ideology. I always question, using my work as the voice that speaks. I fuse traditions with contemporary forms, allowing tradition to not just be the definition of masculinity but be the definition of our country’s battles.

We are battling with understanding our position as males, as humans, within our country. For me, its tapping into that world, allowing my work to be the defining power. If I go onto stage in a dress, I allow the dress to be a vehicle, an aesthetic, the movement itself defines my masculinity.

What advice, in regard to masculinity, would you give to your younger self or younger males?

For anyone who is younger, I would say you have to accept the fact that you have power in your masculinity, but also to accept the fact that you can be fragile within it. You have a space to define your own masculinity, it is not just your muscles or your brain, it is the full understanding of yourself. You have to understand how people relate to each other and to you, which is more powerful than just the definition of masculinity.

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