History of the Six Foot Dance Festival in Durban
The art of dance and drama is a form of expression enacted in all communities and is related to the time line of the context it is in. When the Indian labourers settled in Durban, they found a need to maintain their culture by setting up temples and starting festivals that was popular in India. The Therukoothu or the six foot dance festival was one such celebration that was brought from south India. It means street play or is a drama performance staged by mainly men dressed up as woman and playing roles from the Hindu epic legends such as the Ramayana, it includes dialogue, singing and miming of epic dramas.
The festival of the six foot dance or Therukoothu in Durban started in the 1890s which was held mainly at the Mount Edgecombe temple festival and was usually held in the month of April. The community of Mount Edgecombe comprised mainly of Tamil speaking Hindus. The festival lasted ten days. The month of April marks new year for Tamil speaking Hindus, and at this time residents had plenty time to prayer festival brought many language and religious together with rituals and entertainment. It also promoted arts, and people had a chance of show casing their talent. It also focused on urging people to clean and paint their homes. The festival opens with a flag hoisting ceremony with cultural activities for the next ten days. The expenses for the festival were sponsored by the local mill, mill workers, community members and with the hire of stalls. They used adverts via hand bills and newspapers to promote the festival. The festival usually will start late at night and carried over to the next morning.
In the South of India, people in the villages had a lot to time for entertainment after harvest in April with long summer nights. During these time groups of people got together and recited and enacted drama of the Gods as told in religious books and previous generations. When they came to Durban, they carried that tradition with them. Men play the part of women, wearing colourful and mostly entails Indian sari and blouses and jewellery music is classical and in Durban the language had being intertwined with English and Hindi.
The dance form includes classical Indian dancing to the beats of a live drummer. The make up of the artist was usually red, green, white, rose and black, which was applied to the face of the performers. In Durban some of the main performing groups were the Illovo Bhajan Group; The Flash Entertainers; The Royal Dancing Company; The Blackburn Group; The Night Key Group; Aarthi & the Party and The Hospital Group. Over time the six foot dance paved the way for stage dramas at local cinemas at night. The stage dramas in cinema were more inclusive of other content in drama including Shakespeare’s plays. The festival of six foot dance is not as popular today as it is used to be in the past due to modern trends and modifications of our culture.