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African Dances : Traditions and Meaning

African Dances : Traditions and Meaning
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African Dance : Traditions and Meanings

Oh, beautiful Africa! For how long I’ve been wanting to talk about one of the most meaningful traditions for humans in this amazing continent: dance.
It’s such a passionate art, a expression of what one has inside, what each of us fels in the moment. It’s easy to see when someone dances with the heart and if you look a little bit deeper, you will also be able to see what the message is. For you all tribal lovers who feel like learning about African dances as a way of understanding life, keep reading.
African Dance - Traditions

What Does Dance Mean in Africa?

More than in any other continent, in Africa, babies are born almost dancing. When moms carry them from one place to another, they dance, so let’s say that it’s not weird that a fierce beat is always joining their everyday life.

Dance is a way of expressing life experiences, celebrating weddings, communicating with the gods, carrying rites of passage or just having fun. It also changes as years go by, according to the social or political changes that take place in certain ethnic groups in Africa. Despite the facts that you can find a lot of traditional dances and they can be pretty different, they all have elements in common.

The majority of them incorporates vigorous moves, but other ones are more relaxed. The categories they can be divided in are mostly four:

1 - Ritual Dances

It’s the most ancient sort of African dance and is a really meaningful expression of the African ancestral beliefs in a religious and honorable way. A great example is the Mbira typical dance from Zimbabwe, which has a total religious and reverential nature. They are performed especially in rituals that celebrate births of deaths. For instance, the Owo Yoruba tribes perform the Igogo dance at burial ceremonies. African dance is something that is 100% integrated in their everyday life, it’s not something punctual, it helps to improve their quality of life. Dance is also used to worship their ancestors, since they can either take care of the living people or cause problems if they are dishonored. It’s a way of ensuring that when joining the spirits world, Africans will be pleasantly welcomed. When dance is used as a way of connecting to the divine, Africans honour humans (living and dead), animals, vegetables and minerals at the same time, so gods are able to see the power and effort they put into honoring their deities.

2 - Ceremonial Dances

These types of dances have a more cultural connotation and some elements are changed to fit the situation, such as the rhythm or the number of dancers. The types of ceremonial dances that are performed are:

Dances of love: especially for weddings.

Rites of passage dances: to build confidence and sense of community among the young girls and boys and the rest of the tribe.

Dances of welcome: show respect to the visitors and let them know how attractive host villagers are. For example, the Yabara, danced by West African tribes.

Royal dances: give the opportunities to the chiefs to impress their community at festivals or royal funerals.

Dances of possession: performed to call the spirits, which can be associated with plants, forests, ancestors or deities.


3 - Griotic Dances

Related to the Griot, who is the village historian who teaches about the past of their culture and traditions.

These traditions are kept by African in the form of dance and music, that usually tell a story about their people. In Senegal, Malinke people dance Lamba for instance.

The griot has such a big relevance that is said that when a Griot dies, a library has burnt to the ground.


4 - Communal Dances

This type of dance expresses the life of the community itself. The sense of belonging together in Africa is pretty strong; the drum beat is used give to every member the feeling of solidarity and connection. This way, both men and women are invited to contribute to the common culture. An example can be the dance that Mandingo girls perform in Mali when reaching the teenage years.


The Connection Between All Traditional African Dances?

In all the varieties existing, what African dance wants to express is cultural heritage and a deep connection with nature. Every regional dance ‘talks” about the philosophy of its people. The richness found in this land, as well as the emotions of joy, love or hope, create this kind of self-sufficient language. The emotion, whether dancers want to express one feeling or another, is what blends all the dances together.
For me, this is how I feel whenever I see some African dance: I can see the powerful connection between the body, the ground beneath their feet and Mother Nature. It’s not just their movements, it’s the aesthetics, the ritual and the worship implied in the performance of the dance. How awesome would it be to be able to witness some these traditional dances! Let’s learn from Africa and start to make the most out of our travelers community feeling!


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