Dance in Master Harold and the Boys

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The Metaphor of Dance in Fugard’s “Master Harold”…and the Boys
In Athol Fugard’s play “Master Harold”… and the Boys dance becomes a metaphor for how society can work harmoniously together, yet there are conflicts that prevent it from happening. Specifically, ballroom dance becomes a metaphor to show the conflict between a cooperative society and the disappointment associated with life and our inability to force change. This is expressed by Sam teaching Willie the mastery of dance and also educating Hally on the significance of the championships, and ultimately through the final dance performance.

The difficulty associated with perfection is first seen during the plays opening when Sam is teaching Willie how to perform the quickstep and foxtrot. Not only is Willie having trouble remembering all of the steps, as they are complicated, “Not straight, too stiff and now it’s also glide, give it more style, make it smooth,” but he is also frustrated that his partner, Hilda, is unable to perform them as well (1251). Willie is mad because he thinks Hilda is responsible for slowing their progress, which might ruin their chances of winning the championship that is in two weeks. Because of this, Willie, who seems to be a bit of a perfectionist, often takes his frustrations out by beating her (1252). He believes that in order to get Hilda to obey and to cooperate with him, he must show her his strength. However, it has the opposite effect and Hilda doesn’t show up to the rehearsals for several days. Sam points out, “Hiding on Sunday night, then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday she doesn’t come to practice…and you are asking me why? (1252). Sam, who serves as a father figure and teacher, instructs Willie on what dance must be like. It should not be very serious, but happy and fun and should look like it is easy, although it is hard. “Ballroom must look happy, Willie, not like hard work. It must…Ja!....it must look like romance (1251-52).” He continues that dance is artistic and aesthetically pleasing and that the judges should see couples that are “dancing their way to a happy ending (1252).” He also instructs Willie that in order to be a successful partner he needs to get along with Hilda, and forgive any mistakes she makes. He expresses his disapproval of Willie’s methods of correcting Hilda’s mistakes, “Beating her up every time she makes a mistake in the waltz? (Shaking his head) No, Willie! That takes the pleasure out of ballroom dancing” (1252). Dancing should be harmonious, like society at large. If everyone works together and forgives mistakes then everyone can be happy.

In the play itself there are other conflicts besides dancing which highlight the imperfections of the world. The play is set during apartheid in South Africa and Willie and Sam, who are servants of Hally’s family, have to struggle with racism. Likewise, the protagonist, Hally, is trying to come to terms with his disappointment and embarrassment of his crippled and an alcoholic father as well as the racists views that are swirling around him at school and at home. These problems overarch the play and set up the discussion that Sam, Willie, and Hally have about the significance of the dance championship to the native South Africans for his school essay. Hally has become cynical to the world due to his father’s problems. “Anybody who thinks there’s nothing wrong with this world needs to have his head examined. Just when things are going along all right, without fail someone or something will come along and spoil everything (1260).” Similar to how Willie takes out his frustrations about dance on Hilda, Hally takes his frustrations out on Sam and Willie rather than dealing with them himself. Hally exclaims that dance is a simple pleasure for the “simple minded, meaning mentally retarded,” and when Sam offers to teach him a few steps he refuses (1262). Sam counters that dance is beautiful and is an art form worth appreciation. He likens the championship dance,...
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