Pantsula has a new force
A game changer in every sense, Leballo Lee Lenela’s can-do attitude continues to keep her at the forefront of the pantsula stage with the spotlight fixed on her at every point.
Professional Pantsula dancer and athlete in her own right, Lee grew up in Soweto and was inspired by the culture of the streets. Pantsula bug bit her at a young age and she hasn’t stopped dancing since. Typically seen as a dance reserved for men, Lee is a daring hero for young girls in her community as she continues to lead her dance crew, Intellectual Pantsula.
Unflinchingly, Leballo has always gone above and beyond to prove that limits are a mere figment of the imagination. Growing up, she had to mask her passion as a hobby in order to be allowed to dance. She was chosen by the exuberant culture of the streets and learned about what truly makes her heart beat. Her passion for dance led to her becoming a force for change amongst the young women who now look to her for inspiration.
A natural born leader, it was not long before she started influencing people to open their minds and think differently, those who never saw women as pantsula dancers. “Being a woman disadvantages me even though I can dance better than some of the male dancers” she says. This is a sentiment her mother shared as well and it took some convincing to let her live out her dream. Since then, she has been fearlessly expressive of her freedom and in the process, opening doors for the generation that comes after her.
What was movement, became a culture. What became a culture catapulted her into the light, from where she continues to take hold of her power and female energy . From a tumultuous time comes a beautiful heritage-filled narrative that accurately illustrates an authentic story. “Pantsulas were the cool guys – everyone wanted to be like them or be around them. It had this respect and I was so happy that I could celebrate that dance,” says Lee.
As a celebration of her history, she chose this specific dance style because it meant more than just busting a move or winning dance battles. She is not only a part of a sub-culture that was completely homegrown but she is killing it and opening doors for young girls like her. Taking charge whenever she hits the dance floor, she lives out her dream every day.
If there was ever a force for change, Lee is an inspiration. Living in a community that still believes pantsula dancers should be men, her drive to be the best has created a space where girls can see themselves in a new light, doing things they wouldn’t typically do. In the true sense of trailblazing, Lee stands strong in her dreams, saying that the sheer magnitude of her aspirations sometimes scare her.
“We own it, so we must master it in every way,” she says. For as long as she creates paths for herself, she will continue to open up the circle for other young women, constantly lifting as she rises.