African Dance is a high-spirited, fun, high-powered rhythmic dance experience for anyone who loves to dance.
Dancing is an important aspect of African life. Throughout the varied countries of that vast continent, dance is used not only as a form of recreation and entertainment, but more important, it teaches social patterns and values to the members of the community.
African dance has traditionally played an essential role in the culture of the tribes. Much more than entertainment, dances communicate emotions, celebrate rites of passage, and help strengthen the bonds between members of the tribe as a whole. Look at the facts about African dancing below:
African dance is polycentric, which sets it apart from most other dance traditions in the world. As explained by the National Museum of African Art, this means that the dancer’s body is segmented into separate areas of movement, with each area being able to move to different rhythms within the music. Known as “isolations” in choreographic terms, these moves are quite complex and difficult to master.
Most African villages had a “dance master” who taught the members of the tribe from a very young age how to perform the various dances. It was very important that these dances be performed exactly as taught, with no room for improvisation or ornamentation until complete mastery of the form was achieved. While almost all of the dances are polycentric in some way, different areas of Africa have very different dances. The Masai are known for leaping high in the air, for example, while the Kalabari emphasize hip motions. In all cases, the movements are very precise, and the same dances you see today have most likely been danced the same way for centuries.
Dancing plays a significant role in tribal life in Africa. In addition to being a unifying activity for community members, dance is often an expression of spirituality in tribal religious rituals. Africans dance to celebrate a birth or a marriage, to pray for prosperity and better crops or to ward off danger and disease, for example.
Each African community uses specific dances for different events. Coming-of-age dances, which are performed when a young member of the village reaches maturity, celebrate his independence as an adult. Welcome dances mark the birth of a new child in the tribe or welcome visitors to the villages. Dances of summoning are important, as they are the process by which tribes can call spirits for help in dire situations such as a war or drought.
Tribal dances vary throughout Africa, but there are some unifying features. Dance and music are generally very rhythmic and uptempo because the principal instrument is the drum, which is considered the heartbeat of the village. Depending on the culture and the reason for the dance, performances can be theatrical. Dancers sometimes wear elaborate costumes, including leaves, braided raffia and masks crafted from wood or plant husks. Tribal dancing is considered polyrhythmic because all parts of the body are used to move with the rhythm.
You can see the influence of traditional African tribal dancing throughout many modern dance styles. West African slaves brought to the West Indies in the 1500s had an impact on American dance, and one of the many places you can see the influence of African dance in hip-hop, where dancers rely heavily on rhythm and free-form intuitive movements of the body.