Llewellyn Mnguni | Dancer, choreographer and creative director | 34, they/ them.
Llewellyn Mnguni | Dancer, choreographer and creative director | 34, they/ them.
Image: Steve Tanchel for Wanted

Llewellyn Mnguni, also known as LuluBelle, is an acclaimed dancer, choreographer and creative director. 

They chat to Wanted’s managing editor, Suzy Josephson, about their perception of femininity and how they navigate their own femininity in today’s world. 

Suzy Josephson: What is your perception of femininity, and what do you think shaped this perception?

Llewellyn Mnguni: I was raised by mostly women. We have a big family of mostly women who are all strong and all different in their own special ways.

When I grew up, I was very, very feminine. I was always mistaken for my mother’s daughter, which kind of traumatised her, and for me I guess it was just something I was used to. I was just like that and that was me. I only noticed that I was quite feminine because of society and how [people] made me feel, because for them I didn’t fit into the kind of status quo description of what a man is. That’s when I started discovering my sexuality and the fact that I’m androgynous and I do possess feminine and masculine energy. So that’s where I started really appreciating myself for who I am, coming out to my family, and actually using my femininity and my androgyny and my queerness as a tool to express myself and my art form and my choreography.

SJ: What does femininity mean to you?

LM: Femininity for me means strength, it means vulnerability, it’s the understanding of both femininity and masculinity, because I feel like being feminine is also being masculine. We describe things in such a linear way and things are not always linear. Femininity moves, it’s agile, it’s able to be whatever it wants to be.

SJ: It’s interesting what you said about you mother being traumatised by your being mistaken for her daughter. What do you think femininity is to her?

LM: She obviously grew up in a different era, so she’s used to being described as a woman who takes care of the family and the father. It’s an old-school perception of femininity, that “I have to provide in a certain way” and “I have to behave in a certain way as a woman”. But I think also what she was really scared of was of how I was going to grow up and how I was going to be treated by society. I think her main concern was my safety and me being teased, or the danger aspect of it all, because I was queer and she noticed it. And this happens if you’re queer or if you’re a woman. You’re always in danger from society, people are always threatened by femininity, because of the strength that a woman has and because they completely understand who they are and they don’t need this masculine bravado behaviour to protect themselves or to behave as if they are better than or stronger than or at the top of the totem pole.

SJ: It’s a very interesting thing, that. Femininity has always been seen as the weaker side, but vulnerability is the biggest strength.

LM: Completely, because that’s when you’re really being yourself, when you’re vulnerable and letting your emotions come out, letting your guard down, being authentic. Those are the most important things in life — to be 100% pure and truthful to yourself and others. If that’s not strength I don’t know what is.

... discover your own femininity in your own special way

SJ: So, what message would you give the younger you about femininity and what it will mean in your life to come?

LM: Definitely to discover your own femininity in your own special way. One important thing is to not listen to society, because society has a warped idea of how society should be. I think we need to be making our own discoveries, to be learning our own lessons, opening up new avenues to what it means to be a person in this life, in this era, and in this time. I think to honestly just find a new way of being, of truth.

SJ: How do you embrace femininity when you dance?

LM: A lot of my work is based in queer activism. I really speak a lot of my own story as a feminine, androgynous person. I also celebrate and tell stories about trans people because they’re getting killed all over the world and it’s a horrible thing. For me, I love to tell stories about the disenfranchised people who are basically being erased for no reason, so that’s where I tackle these issues and stories in my own work.

SJ: What makes you feel feminine?

LM: I think what makes me feel feminine is how I decide to live my life and how I decide to be. Half of the clothes I’m wearing are feminine and half are masculine and that’s my truthful self. Being decisive about who I want to be without listening to anyone else.

SJ: Do you prefer to take a more feminine approach to your makeup and hair?

LM: I’m more on the feminine side in terms of my makeup. I wear different styles of makeup and I love to change my hair all the time to braids, weaves, or sometimes I’ll go short and do my own natural hair. I like to be a chameleon as well, and not to do the expected, no expectations when you see me because I’m always forever changing and I think it’s important for me as an artist and a person to always be changing and discovering.

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