Originally from Johannesburg, Michael Moloi was raised performing cultural dances, including Gumboots, Pantsula, and traditional Zulu dancing around the villages of his hometown. Michael started performing at the age of eleven and eventually went on to form his own dance group, Via Katlehong, in which he not only danced but also acted as the artistic director and choreographer. “Via Katlehong” performed nationally and internationally, spreading stories about traditions, South African culture, life during apartheid, and more.
Michael Moloi was invited to perform for The Beatles “LOVE ” Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, Nevada. There he was a solo Gumboots dancer and a character performer for eleven years. During the summer, Michael works to empower and engage under-served youth through circus and theater arts outreach programs with the non-profit Prescott Circus Theater in Oakland, California, Rise art academy from New York. He also performs in the Circus in the Parks program with San Francisco’s Circus Bella, aimed at making entertainment accessible to everyone, which includes yearly performances in The Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.
Michael also works with The University of Oregon Foreign Language and International Studies Department teaching Gumboots dance and Zulu language. He worked with WATTSOUL, an international hip hop dance festival teaching Pantsula dance and choreography.
Interview with Michael Moloi, Artistic Director, Choreographer, Performing Artist and Designer
What opportunities or events opened the door to your career?
Michael Moloi: It all started in the dusty street in Johannesburg and with a blink of an eye I was traveling all over the world to different countries including France, Italy, Belgium, Madagascar, Germany, Africa, and many more. The big break in my career was Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. I was invited as a solo performer/special feature for the Beatles LOVE show from December 2005 to December 2016.
Tell us about some of your solo performances?
Michael Moloi: Whether I perform for one person or in front of 3000 people, the response has been the same with wows! When people ask me about my performances, I like to think of it as I give people a pill to forget where they are or who they are with for a moment, and instead travel their mind into an empty space where it can feel good to laugh or cry.
Describe your dance style.
Michael Moloi: First, GUMBOOT that was created in the mines of South Africa, as a means of communication to a dance form (it was again the law to speak why’ll you are working underground, so the mine workers created a language or calling cords to speak).
Second, PANTSULA dance that was created in the townships, from poor circumstance in the squad at camp as a form of survival. It started in 50s and 60s as a way for working man to show their social status. It was more of a style or a swagger. It was very much influenced by American brand. During 70s and 80s it evolved into a dance form as young generation creating street theater to tell their stories to the world.
Third, my new style is a mix of body percussion and vocal sound of nature and animals with KORA instrument, working with a friend Joshua Caraco.
What influences other style and creativity
Michael Moloi: South Africa is always rooted in my creative development. But traveling and learning of the world, nature, art, culture and people have much more influence on how I view things.
Have you studied other style of dance?
Michael Moloi: Throughout my life, I have taken classes in contemporary dance, ballet, hip hop, and tap. However, I always fall back in what I do, not because I don’t like the other dances. I am afraid to like them too much to do mine less. I am one of the few people that performs, teaches, and educates people about my culture in America. I feel that I am my best at it and that it gives me a greater purpose to teach and educate others.
What causes or charities do you support and why?
Michael Moloi: I support causes against police brutality, social injustice, and racism. I am a child born under apartheid government and to witness it again in America I feel like we didn’t really grow much. I run Charity Miles in support of Save the Children. I believe children are the game changer and the future.
Do you also choregraph/teach? Tell us a little bit more about any dance academy you are involved in.
Michael Moloi: I have been a dance choreographer and teacher for very long time. When you perform and travel the world not so many people understand the creativity that comes with your final piece. So, what end up happening is that they give you a platform to create and choreograph your dance movements and if necessary, teach them to others.
I plan to teach online classes with Lane Arts Academy in Eugene, Oregon. I applied for this position for little more than a year ago and since Covid didn’t make things easier lots of artist like me have been on hold. I have also been teaching outdoor dance classes in community parks since June 2020.
Who are some of the people that you have worked with in your projects?
Michael Moloi: In America it all started with Cirque du Soleil in Vegas from 2006-2016 where I did two creations and attracted celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Denzel Washington, Fergie, Bon Jovi, Paul McCarthy, Ringo Start and more. I also had an opportunity to be on big stages like the Grammys, Music Care, America Got Talent, Italy Got Talent, NASCAR event, Life is Beautiful and more.
I had opportunities to be in movies like “Run Away with Cirque” directed by James Cameron, “All together now” 1 and 2 by Cirque. Recently I have been free lancing and teaching colleges, libraries and dance studios.
How does every performance make you feel?
Michael Moloi: Every performance takes me to a place of peace and silence. I get to lose my self and let my body do the work. I train really hard for my performances and when it’s time to perform, I let the body do the work.
Tell us about your training routine.
Michael Moloi: My training routine is long hours of repetition/drill until it looks good and feels good. Most importantly I like plant a seed for the public to think.
Do you try to push yourself in new directions with each new piece?
Michael Moloi: I am always pushing myself in new directions. My way of dance tells poems/stories, and those stories are diﬀerent all the time. I sometimes allow people to tell me the story and I perform it.
How has your dance style and dance philosophy changed over the years?
Michael Moloi: I am older, wiser, stronger now. I can perform and engage my audience. I still dance hard but I speak harder. I like to perform and tell stories on stage.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
Michael Moloi: My dream is to enlighten people in a show on Broadway, a show that talks about events from South Africa during and after apartheid. The show will include beautiful vocals, cultural songs, music, dance, poetry, sounds and rhythms of nature. Much like Hamilton.
What legacy do you want to leave behind? What do you want to be remembered for?
Michael Moloi: I want to be remembered as an artist that have tried his best to entertain, perform, dance, create and teach from the heart.