Dance Decoded: 5 Traditional Dances


Theres nothing like getting down to some coupe decale at a party, or wrapping your arms around a loved one as you slow dance to some zouk. We have myriads of genres and dance styles in Africa but no dances have more significance and meaning than the traditional dances performed by the hundreds (or thousands?) of ethnic groups. Each group may have their own particular dance style and beat – however all of them are meant to unify their people. Check out five dances below:

Adowa Dance, Ghana
The Adowa dance is the most widespread and most frequently performed social musical type of the Akan speaking people of Ghana. The dance originated through the movements made by the antelope, hence the name given to it. The story behind the dance states that, there was a once a queen mother in Ashanti called Abrewa Tutuwa.

She suddenly fell ill in the cause of her reign. The Obosom (gods) was consulted and a request for a live antelope was to be used for the sacrificial rites. It was alleged that, the asafo companies were promptly detailed to the forest to look for the animal. On coming back, the people saw to their amazement the antelope jumping and making very strange movements.

The people in an attempt to imitate the movement of the animal as a sign of celebrating the queen mother’s health started the Adowa dance. The dance was hence started by the Asafo companies. Since the animal was sacrifice for the queenmother, the musical type soon was taken over by the elderly women making the dance becoming women’s performance in several Akan communities. Adowa in present day content can be located in Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Kwahu, Akim, and some parts of Akim Abuakwa and among the coastal Akans-Fantes where it is known as Adzewa (Adewa).

Umhlanga Reed Dance, Swaziland
Umhlanga, or Reed Dance ceremony, is an annual Swazi and Zulu[citation needed] tradition held in August or September. Tens of thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi/Zulu girls and women travel from their villages to participate in the eight-day event. In Swaziland they gather at the Queen Mother’s royal village, which currently is Ludzidzini Royal Village, while Nongoma is the site of the royal reed dance in Zululand. After arriving at the Queen Mother’s royal residence, or Enyokeni Palace in Zululand, the women disperse the following night to surrounding areas and cut tall reeds. The following night they bundle them together and bring them back to the Queen Mother to be used in repairing holes in the reed windscreen surrounding the royal village. After a day of rest and washing the women prepare their traditional costumes consisting of a bead necklace, rattling anklets made from cocoons, a sash, and skirt. Many of them carry the bush knife they used to cut the reeds as a symbol of their virginity.
The official purpose of the annual ceremony is to preserve the women’s chastity, provide tribute labor for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together. The women sing and dance as they parade in front of the royal family as well as a crowd of spectators, tourists and foreign dignitaries. After the parade, groups from select villages take to the center of the field and put on a special performance for the crowd. The King’s many daughters also participate in the Umhlanga ceremony and are distinguished by the crown of red feathers in their hair.

Assiko, Cameroon
The Assiko is a popular dance from the South of Cameroon. Originally based in the Bassa country, this rhythmed dance takes its name from two words: ISI, changed into ASSI, which means earth or ground; and KOO meaning foot. The Assiko is danced dressed in a simple T-shirt and a full skirt with a pronounced, billowing waistline that emphasizes hip movement.

The choreographies of Assiko use several lop-sided walks, successive small close walks that the dancers make at different heights, standing up or crouching, which makes you feel they float on the stage. There are also demonstrations of sense of balance, contortions and physical strength calling to the exhilalaration of dance or trance. The Assiko is also a musical style. The band is usually based on a singer accompanied with a guitar, and a percussionnist playing the pulsating rhythm of Assiko with metal knives and forks on an empty bottle. Double bass, drums and some brass can complete this base.

Twa, Rwanda
A traditional Rwandan Dance from the Twa people in northwestern area

Celebration, Mali
A wedding party celebrates in Bamako Mali