A dance born in the shanty towns of South Africa takes the world by storm.

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When director Damian Weilers was asked to pitch a music video for a new single by Grammy-award winning British dance duo Basement Jaxx, he was instructed to find an original choreographed routine. The London-based director, who is from South Africa, immediately thought of the fast-paced and slinky dance moves that developed in the townships of his home country.

Mr. Weilers compiled YouTube videos of the dance, known as pantsula, and won the pitch. He then started the search for two dancers who had caught his eye. He found them in a small rural township three hours outside of Johannesburg. He brought them to the city for the shoot, providing them with a fee, new clothes, sunglasses, toothbrushes and a place to stay. The dancers choreographed their own routine for the video, which also featured cameos by other local pantsula crews.

The resulting 3½ minute video, “What a Difference Your Love Makes,” has been viewed on YouTube over 1.1M times and showcased on the websites of music magazines Pitchfork and Spin. The intricate footwork impressed viewers discovering pantsula for the first time. “This is an opportunity to show something that is not well known, but should be,” Mr. Weilers said.

Thanks to the effort of Mr. Weilers and others, pantsula is moving and into the global spotlight.

The dance form—which looks like a cross between hyped-up hip-hop and Irish line dancing—has appeared in music videos, documentaries and advertisements. The diamond company Forevermark, part of the DeBeers group, was so taken with the performance of local dancers on a recent visit to South Africa, that they plan to bring the crew, called “Skeleton Pantsula,” to perform in New York in coming months.

Pantsula emerged in the 1980s, and was originally danced to a South African take on hip-hop called kwaito. Dancers walked in the manner of local gangsters, mirroring the origins of hip-hop in the U.S. But the dance remained confined to the predominantly black townships. “It’s life within [the] body of somebody who grew up in the townships,” says Buru Mohlabane, leader of Via Katlehong, a dance crew from outside Johannesburg.

After recent exposure from YouTube and nationally-televised dance competitions, the dance has edged into the mainstream. Some even earn a living from pantsula in a country where one-fourth of the working-age population is unemployed. Mada Sthembiso, 27, is a dancer whose two-man group, Shakers & Movers, has been hired to appear in local advertisements. Mr. Sthembiso appears in a recent documentary about South African street dance styles called “The African Cypher.” Director Bryan Little says he was inspired by the visual impact of their coordinated routines. “Pantsula is just very precise,” he says. “Every muscle moves in a specific way and it takes decades to master.”

Pantsula’s relative obscurity has been working in its favor. A variation of the dance features in a 2011 music video for Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” The singer and her choreographer, Frank Gatson Jr., flew two dancers from Mozambique after finding them on YouTube and tracking them down to a small village outside the capital, Maputo. “It was just something we as Americans had never seen,” Mr. Gatson Jr. said of the dancers, who call their group W Tofo. “Something innovative, different and unique.”

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Via The wall Street Journal

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