African Dance : Traditions and Meanings
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
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.