Staying over at the tiny settlement of Eksteenfontein in the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, we arranged for a local troupe to show us how the Namastap was done.
The dancers were colourful in their long floral dresses, a riot of pinks and green and yellows, some of them wearing plastic pumps, others in takkies or clunky trainers.
Although the dance should traditionally have been around the fire, in sub-zero temperatures we all agreed to the more practical plan of setting up the music in the corner of a double garage.
CDs of hypnotically rhythmical Nama tunes were stacked on top of the sound system, two permanent teenage DJs in service, hooded sweaters pulled up around the ears to look extra trendy. A host of rotating advisors appeared in no time, and a few chairs were pulled up for the old people who came to watch.
So what is the essential quality of the Namastap?
For the men there are daredevil intricacies with their feet that threaten to overturn them if they get in a tangle, and lots of opportunity for showing off.
But for the women it’s more of a slow shuffling and stepping in a circle or in lines across the floor. There seemed to be no fixed steps, everyone doing slightly different things with their feet, but in the same direction, either back or forwards, or turning with their partners.
After a few dances, a large and determined lady pulled me into the circle and I began to appreciate how taxing the dancing is on the thighs and knees, despite its apparent sedateness.
Tant Sanna Joseph, 70 years young and stick thin, glasses perched on her nose, her wrinkled face creased into a happy smile, was obviously the kingpin, outpaced by no one.
There wasn’t a single dance that she sat out. Even towards the end of the evening, when the rest of us were lounging against the wall getting our breath, she was on the floor – alone except for her great-granddaughter in her arms, teaching the Namastap the easy way, by osmosis.
Later when I asked over a meal of boerewors and freshly baked roosterkoek if she suffered from arthritis, she showed me her knees, evidently swollen under their bandages. She admitted that she’d be stiff the next day.
‘Maar ek het lekkkkkkkker gedans!’ she grinned.
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