Sin, sex and ballroom dancing

29 July 2002
TAKING a little time off from highbrow academic literature, UCT's Associate Professor Russell Kaschula has released Divine Dump Dancer, a book that forms part of a unique and successful new series of novels specifically targeted at South African teens.

Entitled Siyagruva – Kaschula came up with the title that means 'let's groove' or 'let's party' – the series by New Africa Books is aimed at urban and rural South African youth and deals with "everyday issues" that they are faced with. All 12 titles to be released revolve around a ballroom dance studio in The Stadium in Claremont called "The Siyagruva Scene".

The books also feature a central cast of eight characters, with the series' eight writers committed to using for purposes of continuity at least two of the characters – who range from the "dysfunctional to the highly dysfunctional," according to Kaschula – in each of the novels.

"The initial brief was really to write about sin, sex and soccer," shares Kaschula, who is based in the Southern African Languages and Literatures Section. The writers decided on ballroom dancing rather than soccer in the end, however, because of the sport's growing popularity – among both sexes – and its associated glamour.

Kaschula's Divine Dump Dancer deals specifically about a young dancer who experiences what is known as amafufunyana, and tries to balance his life as a successful ballroom dancer with this calling to become a diviner. In his second contribution to the series, Flying High in America (which he wrote while in the United States recently and which will appear in 2003), the studio wins a competition and the dancers spend an eventful time on the way to and in the US.

The two novels are not Kaschula's first foray into teen literature, having published short stories and longer works in the genre since the early 1990s. This includes The Tsitsa River and Beyond, recollections about his youth in the Eastern Cape.

"I think the challenge is to write in a way that is exciting for the youth, so you have to be very disciplined," he says about penning teen literature. "The stories have to be pacy and they have to be fast and they have to be interesting."

Dealing with issues such as poverty, sexually transmitted diseases and homophobia, the books are selling well around the country, and have also been accepted as prescribed texts in the Free State, reports Kaschula. Despite their sombre topics, the books remain upbeat and optimistic, he adds.

"And the publishers are very excited about it because there isn't a series for South African teens that's specifically South African."

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