Africa is known for its cheerful music and dances. In this lesson, explore African dance and learn about its history and cultural significance. Also, discover some basic formations found in several dances and examine the traditional costumes.
Drums start to beat, and it’s time to move your body. But enthusiasm and following the rhythm are not enough. You need to know the steps, wear the right outfit, and be aware of your role in the community. Each element of African dance is full of cultural significance.
African dance refers to a form of performing art found among most cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa. Still practiced today, it involves rhythmic body movements combined with music and sometimes theatrical representations. There are as many forms of African dance as there are human groups.
Dance is a fundamental part of the cultural fiber and an important activity that serves several purposes in the community. People dance in festivals, religious ceremonies, marriages, funerals, and almost every social occasion. Dances serve to impart knowledge and traditions.
More than a mere performer, the dancer becomes an active member of the community. Local storytellers, teachers, healers, and ordinary individuals adopt specific roles while dancing.
Some dances help define individual roles within the community. The Maasai Adumu dance in Kenya is part of the coming of age ceremony for men. It involves each young man trying to jump higher than the other. Those who perform the best gain social recognition as warriors and earn priority when choosing their future wives.
The themes of dances can be traditional concerns, like fertility, rain, or good harvests. One example is the Kakilambe fertility dance from West Africa. They can also be inspired by contemporary issues such as racism or political demands. The Gumboot dance of South Africa was developed by miners during Apartheid, when music was not allowed. Instead, the miners used their boots to make rhythmic sounds.
History of African Dance
Each dance has its own origin, closely related to the culture and beliefs of the tribe that created it. It’s unclear how or when dances first appeared, but they have been part of the African life for centuries.
Dances are passed down to younger generations. The young learn the movements, often dating back to the times of age-old ancestors. Since there’s usually no room for improvisation, many dances have remained intact for generations.
African rhythms expanded from Africa to America, mostly through the forced migrations of Africans taken as slaves. The influences are especially strong in the Caribbean and South America. Rhythms like salsa, Afro-Cuban jazz, Brazilian samba, Colombian cumbia, Venezuelan drums, and many others have African roots.
Today, traditional dances are strongly tied to cultural identity and continue to be practiced both for their symbolic meaning and as a way to preserve cultural heritage. Throughout Africa and among African descendant communities in America and Europe, there are many schools that teach the traditional rhythms.
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Top 10 African Dance Styles
Africa is known for its rich diversity in music and dance. There was no different as the continent witnessed some of the best dance styles ever created. From North to South, East to West, there is no doubt these dance styles that were trending throughout the entire year will continue to captivate participants and audiences in the years to come. It is amazing to see how creativity has been perfectly infused with African culture and trends to create amazing dances that will tempt you to join the dance floor. It is expected these dance sensations will continue to remain popular in future as the continent awaits new dances.
Let’s take a look at the African dance styles.
1. shaku shaku
Shaku Shaku is a Nigerian sensation street dance style that took not only the African continent but the entire world by storm. Ever since Shaku Shaku hit, people just can’t seem to get over it. Shaku Shaku has continuously gained popularity and shows no signs of letting up. The dance steps come in various varieties and are likened to those of a drunk person. They typically involve entire body movement including the arms and legs. The dance is a freestyle and traces its origins from the streets. Shaku Shaku is today referred to as Nigeria’s Gangnam Style.
2. Odi Dance – Kenya
Odi dance is a Kenyan dance sensation that is commonly associated with the youth. Started by a gospel professional dancer and artist, Timeless Noel, Hype Ochi and Jabiddi, gospel dancehall artist, Odi dance was started to attract more youth to the gospel of Christ. ‘Odi’ is a slang word for ordinary. The target of the dance were ghetto (slum and low income neighborhood) youths based on the group’s belief that despite Jesus being an extraordinary person, he came into the world as an ordinary person and mingled with everyone despite of their social status. The dance has become not only a national sensation but popular across the entire African continent.
3. Gwara Gwara Dance – South Africa
In 2018, Gwara Gwara dance, a South African viral dance went international. Started by DJ Bongz, the dance entails lifting and swinging one leg while getting the entire body involved including the arms in synch with the leg movement. The peak of the Gwara Gwara was when it was performed in the 2018 Grammy Awards Ceremony. Some of the international artists who’ve performed and danced Gwara Gwara include Rihanna.
4. Rosalina Dance – Democratic Republic of Congo
The list of 2018 top African dances cannot be complete without the famous Rosalina dance that originated from BM’s song Rosalina. Originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rosalina which means “Break Your Back” became an instant hit in 2018 with fans across the continent taking part in numerous dance challenges. This a high adrenaline dance with electrifying moves thanks to the impressive Congolese beat that sets the pace for the rhythm. The dance involves systematic movement of the legs, arms, waist and the entire body.
5. Pilolo Dance – Ghana
Pilolo is famous Ghanaian dance step that was a big hit across the continent and globally in 2018. The creator of Pilolo, Zigi is also known for previously releasing Kupe, a famous dance challenge that took everyone by storm. From the streets of Ghana, Pilolo became a hit in New York City with Janet Jackson performing both Kupe and Pilolo at the end of her performance “Made for Now” on “The Tonight Show” starring Jimmy Fallon. The name Pilolo was borrowed from a hide and seek game popular among Ghanaian kids. Zigi in an interview explained he came up with the steps in the evening while making preparations to shoot a dance video.
6. Malwedhe/Idibala Dance – South Africa
Malwedhe is no doubt South Africa’s biggest dance in 2018 that rapidly spread its wings to an international audience. The dance is a product of King Monada’s hit song “Malwedhe” that means illness in Sepedi language. In this dance, fans fall to the ground when the chorus “ke na le bolwedhe bao idibala” (I have an illness of fainting) is sang. Videos of the dance craze have emerged from far abroad countries such as China. The simulating collapse or fainting is loved by everyone but non-profit organizations dealing with epilepsy have complained the dance mocks epileptic individuals. Others have raised concerns about the possibility of getting injured when one falls to the ground. The Malwedhe/Idibala challenge took the continent by storm.
7. Black Panther/Wakanda – Africa/Diaspora
After the release of Black Panther movie that was a worldwide hit, fans began a dance that rapidly sent shockwaves throughout Africa. The dance is a testament to how fans were really excited with Black Panther. There is no doubt, Wakanda dance was also a force to reckon with in 2018. Interestingly, Africans living in the diaspora as well as non-Africans were all on board having fun.
8. Vosho Dance – South Africa
Vosho is a famous South African dance that involves kicking and squatting at the same time. In recent times, Vosho has turned its focus on the head that has replaced the kicking and squatting. Instead, you only need to dance and lean your head forward in line with the rhythm of the dance tunes. In a short while, there were numerous videos of this dance posted online.
9. Kwangwaru Dance – Tanzania
Kwangwaru dance style from Tanzania originates from Kwangwaru, a famous East African hit by Tanzanian artists Harmonize and Diamond Platnumz. Upon releasing the song in 2018, the Kwangwaru dance immediately picked up momentum with fans across the continent uploading their Kwangwaru dance challenges on social media. There is no doubt, as big as the Kwangwaru hit is, this dance move is expected to remain a craze in the coming days.
10. Kpakujemu – Nigeria
Kpakujemu from Nigeria features among the top African dances of 2018. The dance originates from Kpakujemu, a track by Olamide, Terry, Bhary, Jay and Lyta. The highly electrifying dance moves are associated with this dance craze whose roots have spread far and wide. It is expected Kpakujemu dance challenges will continue in 2019.
Bonus: Kupe Dance
The Kupe Challenge is named after the song featured in the original video; Kupe Dance by Ghana’s A-Star who is also responsible for the Chocobodi dance challenge. The Kupe dance was not just about the dance, but also about good looks, style and swag.
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