Harmony in Motion: Bridging Cultures Through Dance

By Simon Khumoetsile Thipe

Born Kutlwano Molefe in Taung, a small town in North West province in South Africa, but China is where Kay the people’s dancer – a moniker for the talented phenomenon that is Kutlwano- came to be. We peek into the making of one of the most, if not the most talented Amapiano dancers and what has made him a household name, at least when it comes to the South African dance culture, in Southeast Asia.

From his humble beginnings in a small town in South Africa to a global dance teacher in his own right. Fresh off his hugely successful East Africa tour, he took precious time out of his busy schedule to have a sit down with us as we try to be cognizant of what makes him the people’s dancer.

Kutlwano describes his dancing as something he was born with, a calling he couldn’t resist. He was born into an artistic family, with a dancer for a father and artistic aunts and uncles. He couldn’t ignore the ever-growing beat of his own heart which made his feet tap. Slowly, he tapped into something that was already engrained into his genetic makeup.

Kutlwano started with ballet at a young age but quit after a few months and joined Mmabana Cultural Centre, Taung in 2008 and this is where he honed his street dance skills.

Kutlwano Molefe interacts with audience and participants during a dance workshop

Initially flying to China on a whim to teach English, he identified a gap in the huge Chinese dance market and just like that he decided to fill it. “China being such an enormous country, the dance culture is just as enormous, unlike back home. But there was a lack of African street and urban dance and that is how I decided to take a chance and bring Chinese and ultimately Asian dancers closer to African dance,” says Kay The People’s Dancer.

According to him, being a dance instructor has been one of his lifelong dreams and he gets to live out his passion for sharing his knowledge, skills, vibe, and electrifying energy in his dance workshops.

“Africans do not realize how special they are; the vibe, rhythm, swag and energy come effortless to us. Things that are second nature to us are a discovery for other people. It is something to be learnt,” he posited. But it is this sentiment, and being part of the street and party culture that drive his workshops.

Embarking on this journey wasn’t a walk in the park for the maverick because China exists in a vacuum and as such the Chinese people are deeply rooted in their culture and customs. It thus can be a daunting task trying to infiltrate an already established market, especially with the cultural differences and language barrier.

Just like a pilot experiencing turbulence, Kutlwano kept going despite all these challenges. His dance skills and informative Amapiano workshops became his jet fuel as he took to the skies. His spellbinding workshops became the bridge for cultural exchange, and he continues to show us that art transcends verbal communication. He doesn’t just teach South African urban and street dance culture, but he imparts his knowledge of the origins of Amapiano.

Kutlwano Molefe interacts with audience and participants during a dance workshop

Kutlwano recalls his tour of Japan and Russia as significant moments in his Southeast Asia conquest since it wasn’t just Amapiano workshops. Those moments offered him his first Asian dance performance, where he was instrumental in the production of a show in Japan. 

“In Japan, they wait until the very end of the show to give an ovation, they sit silently enjoying the show and analysing every dance move. That took some getting used to because as a dancer you feed off the energy of the crowd and I’m used to crowds cheering throughout the performance” recalls Kay.

He choreographed the whole dance piece and was actively involved in every aspect from staging, lighting, and spacing, to advising on costumes. His tour of Russia took him out of his comfort zone as he co-produced, co-choreographed and directed not only one but two dance videos. Kutlwano’s workshops have helped foster understanding between Africa and not only China but also a few of these other countries where he has taken the Amapiano dance culture. Bali, the United Arab Emirates, and the aforementioned Asian countries are some of the places he has left his mark already in his dance career.

What sets Kutlwano apart is, that his craft transcends the frames of dancing. He is a visionary who is constantly pushing boundaries and reshaping the landscape of cultural exchange. His intentions are intelligible; he wants to bring Amapiano to Asia and he doesn’t compromise the purity of the art for mass appeal.

In his own words, the “target market are people who want to learn South African street and urban dance culture so why create a hybrid with innovation when I already possess that which they crave?” A belief that solidifies his pronounced addiction to authenticity and an uncompromising vision for his craft.

Kutlwano Molefe interacts with audience and participants during a dance workshop

The Asian market is diverse, and it might be tempting to adapt to resonate with audiences in different Asian countries. But what makes Kay appealing is his commitment to preserving Amapiano dance styles and remaining authentic. It is this authenticity that has made him a hot commodity.

As much as he pioneered this dance movement in Asia, he doesn’t want to monopolize it. He says he wants to leave a mark upon which other South African artists can build.

Kay The People’s Dancer is a big dreamer, but not only is he a dreamer but also has the drive to chase those dreams. To him, Amapiano is what the book of Matthew is to Christians. That explains why he has his eyes set on spreading the South African street dance culture to the rest of Asia. To spread the gospel of Amapiano, Kutlwano does not only want to teach dance but the tell the story of its roots and cultural background of both the music genre and the street dance.

Where Kutlwano is headed next and how far he can take his dream, is anybody’s guess. But until then, we know for sure that there is a South African revolutionizing the Amapiano culture in China and the rest of Asia.

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