10 Traditional African Dances That Showcase Africa’s Rich Culture

African dance showcased on the stage (Photo credit: WallpaperAccess)
Female African dancers wearing colorful clothes (Photo credit: Etienne Frossard/Flickr)
Female African dancers wearing colorful clothes (Photo credit: Etienne Frossard/Flickr)

The art of expression or choreography through dance has been in most African cultures for a long time. Different ethnic groups have different dance styles for various ceremonial or social functions. Correspondingly, contemporary African dances fall into either of these three categories; ritual (religious), ceremonial, or griotic (storytelling).

Given that these dances are performed primarily during cultural events, they attract a lot of attention. Over time, dancing in Africa has evolved into street dancing, which is popular with African youth. In this article, we will explore African dances that left a legacy for its people.

#1 – Agbadza Dance of the Ewe People of Ghana

Agbazda is a ceremonial dance and music with its roots in western Africa. It is played mainly after war victory. It stemmed from a popular African dance known as Atrikpui. The Agbazda dance incorporates five significant movements.

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Also, the dancers use accompanying instruments such as Gankogui, Sogo, Kagan, and Atoke, which brings in the rhythm. Agbazda is played by people of all ages to mark important rites of passage and remind its people of their origin, and war success, hence, honoring a legacy. 

#2 – Adumu Dance of The Maasai People of Kenya

Adumu is an African ceremonial dance primarily performed during the Eunoto ceremony by the Maasai people. Eunoto is a rite of passage that marks the warrior shaving ceremony that represents graduation to senior warriors.

To celebrate the tradition, the Maasai warriors perform the Adumu dance characterized by frequent hop jumps. These high jumps represent the strength and stamina of the warriors. Ultimately, Adumu dance has attracted many onlookers for its challenging yet straightforward choreography.

#3 – Indlamu – A South African Zulu War Dance 

Indlamu is another ceremonial dance that originated from the tribal community of Zulu in South Africa. It is a high-spirited African dance characterized by vigorous and frequent body movements by both men and women, hence the name war dance.

Culturally, the dance is performed in auspicious ceremonies like weddings, war preparations, and during harvests. In the colonial era, it served as a power symbol and articulated dominance and self-control.

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#4 – Lamban Griotic African Dance of Mali

Lamban dance was performed predominantly during storytelling ceremonies by a bard, otherwise known as the griot. The performer on such occasions can either be one person or small troupes.

The dance is believed to summon spirits and enhance the griot’s ability to deliver the story as planned. Since several cultures and traditions in Africa are passed down through storytelling, such dances as Lamban serve to uphold cultural heritage.

#5 – Moribayasa Dance from the Malinke People in Guinea

Moribayasa is a ceremonial African dance performed by women when a woman overcomes huge adversity. Given that abject poverty and misfortunes were common in Africa some centuries ago, death came easily in several regions.

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However, when a community in Guinea saw through extensive periods of hunger, the women would circle their village singing and dancing. The lead dancer would be in rugged clothing, which she later buries after the dance.

#6 – Ikpirikpi Ogu Dance (War Dance) in Nigeria

Ikpirikpi Ogu is a war dance with its roots in Nigeria’s eastern part, particularly the Abia state. The African dancers are predominantly muscular men dressed in war costumes who sing and dance to commemorate war heroes.

Today, the dance is still being staged symbolically during ceremonious events such as graduations to show victory and uphold the past legacy. It is one of the Nigerian traditional dances that has survived through civilization.

#7 – Mbira African Dance of Zimbabwe

Mbira is a ritual dance performed by the Shona culture in Zimbabwe. It serves the purpose of summoning the ancestral spirits during the bira ceremony. After the dance, the religious leaders start to intercede with the gods to bring rain and protect the land from evil.

The dance has received much attention from the public and tourists for its history. It has led to the formation of the MBIRA Organization, which supports ancient African dance traditions in Zimbabwe.  

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#8 – Yabara Dance of West Africa

Yabara is a ceremonial dance performed when welcoming visitors as a show of respect and pleasure. It is marked by ‘The Beaded Net Covered Gourd Rattle’ known as Shekere.

This instrument is tossed into the air to different heights by female dancers, thereby producing melodious tempos and rhythms. The remarkable skill of the dancers is a sight to see.

#9 – Makua African Dance of Tanzania 

Makua is a traditional ceremonial dance performed by both men and women of the Nyamwezi community. It is performed alongside traditional welcome songs to pass the message that the visitor is welcomed.

In Makumbusho, Dar Es Salaam, the most visited tourist attraction site in Tanzania, this dance is widely practiced by the natives who entertain tourists. Makua dancers preserve Tanzanian culture while entertaining people. 

#10 – Black Panther/Wakanda – Africa/Diaspora

This dance resulted from the film Black Panther which was released in 2018. The movie featured a black cast in a mythical African country.

This street dance was started unofficially by movie fans across the world. Eventually, it spread like wildfire. The legacy that was in the film was carried forward by the dancers, who are mainly youths.

Legacy of contemporary African dance

African dancers performing for the Milwaukee African Diaspora (Photo credit: Folklife Magazine)
African dancers performing for the Milwaukee African Diaspora (Photo credit: Folklife Magazine)

Most African dances have a story behind them. Looking at the various contemporary dances from different African countries, you can see that community is an integral part of African culture. However, we have seen some dances that have been completely forgotten or remodeled by modern African choreographers.

This is sometimes due to cultural corrosion and the emergence of new musical genres. Therefore, we recommend watching the documentary ‘Movement (R)evolution Africa to learn more about the evolution of African dance. 

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