Jerusalema: The Dance Challenge that has Connected the World throughout COVID

For many people worldwide 2020 has definitely been a challenging year, particularly in relation to mental health. The feeling of being disconnected from friends, family and our communities has taken its toll. In spite of this, the artforms of dance and music have been helping people to stay connected with their loved ones. Dance and music have been uplifting and connecting people from all over the world, motivating them to stay strong and to continue celebrating their lives.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the spread of many viral dance videos and music tracks. The dance video that stands out the most is the Jerusalema Challenge, which incorporates a song from South Africa and dance steps from Angola. The dance challenge to this uplifting song has gone viral, spreading love and joy globally.

#Jerusalemchallenge on the streets of Johannesburg. Image by Denis Farrel, Image sourced from The Guardian.

The song in the Jerusalema Challenge was created by the South African DJ, Master KG, and vocalist Nomcebo. Together, the artists have been streamed more than 70 million times on Spotify. It was in February when a group of young friends in Angola created the dance steps and released their viral video. The video showed the group enjoying some plates of food, slowly each of them begins to dance, joining in on the steps as they continue to hold their plates. You can check out the video here.

Angola has a rich social dance culture which is embodied through this dance. Simple movements that get people moving collectively, yet, not in perfect unison. The dance allows for personal style and flavour (Chingono, 2020). It is these simple, repetitive moves that made the dance challenge easy for anyone to pick up, and subsequently sparked a worldwide trend. Nuns, construction workers, police officers, waiters and fuel attendants have all taken part in the challenge - even groups from around Australia such as the Townsville Red Cross.

Here at Yarn, we were very excited to see the Townsville Red Cross wearing our “Our Beautiful Country” NAIDOC 2020 shirts for their version of the Jerusalema challenge. The challenge was the perfect opportunity for them to bring some hope and joy to their community after this incredibly challenging year. Getting the team together during NAIDOC week to do something fun and carefree allowed them to reflect and reconnect. What a beautiful way to celebrate NAIDOC, acknowledging Australian First Nations culture and connecting with other International cultures and peoples. You can check out their fun video here. 

Townsville Red Cross wearing Bundarra NAIDOC 2020 “Our Beautiful Country” polos for the #Jerusalemchallenge.

For South Africa, the song has become a great source of national pride. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa encouraged his citizens to take part in the dance challenge:

“ reflect on the difficult journey we have all travelled, to remember those who have lost their lives, and to quietly rejoice in the remarkable and diverse heritage of our nation.”

He continues on to say:

“It’s so beautiful to see how Jerusalema has taken over the world, to see how far it has gone. The song did amazing at home. It ruled the streets and people created memories of the song.” (Courtesy of the Guardian)

The Jerusalema challenge has provided people worldwide with a simple way to reconnect with their communities amongst the hardships of this pandemic, and has enabled them to forget their worries for a moment in time.

Here at Yarn, we recognise the incredible positive impact that the arts can have on mental and cultural well-being. Within Australian First Nations culture, dance has always played an important role in the wellbeing of people. It brings their people together through ceremony and storytelling, which is a key element for sustaining their cultural continuation.

As the world continues to tackle this pandemic, may we continue to celebrate being alive with music, dance and the things that unite us, across all cultures and peoples.