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Members of a Rwandan dance troupe perform at the the Mountain Gorillas Nest lodge.
African dance occupies central place in cultures throughout the African continent, embodying energy and a graceful beauty flowing with rhythm. In Africa, dance is a means of marking life experiences, encouraging abundant crops, honoring kings and queens, celebrating weddings, marking rites of passage, and other ceremonial occasions. Dance is also done purely for enjoyment. Ritual dance, including many dances utilizing masks, is a way of achieving communication with the gods. As modern economic and political forces have wrought changes on African society, African dance has also adapted, filling new needs that have arisen as many African people have migrated from villages toward the cities.
African dance is connected to Africa’s rich musical traditions expressed in African Music. African dance has a unity of aesthetic and logic that is evident even in the dances within the African Diaspora. To understand this logic, it is essential to look deeper into the elements that are common to the dances in the various cultures from East to West Africa and from North to South Africa.
Africa covers about one-fifth of the world’s land area and about an eighth of its people. Africa is divided into 53 independent countries and protectorates. The African people belong to several population groups and have many cultural backgrounds of rich and varied ancestry. There are over 800 ethnic groups in Africa, each with its own language, religion, and way of life.
Dance has always been an indispensable element of life in African society, binding together communities and helping individuals to understand their roles in relation to the community. In spiritual rituals, dance helps people to understand and remember their role in relation to the divine. Dance in social ceremonies and rights of passage has helped keep community life vibrant, contributing to a sense of security, safety and continuity. As the shape of communities has changed with the passage of time, with alterations in the political climate, and with the application of economic factors, some specifics in the role of dance have also adapted and changed, but today African dance still remains an important supporting element in the spiritual, emotional and social well-being of African society.
Traditional African dance
Dancers in North Cameroon.
Traditional African dance is an essential element of Africa’s cultural heritage, providing a vital expression of the region’s philosophy, and the living memory of its cultural wealth and its evolution over the centuries, as observed by Alphonse Tiérou:
Because it has more power than gesture, more eloquence than word, more richness than writing and because it expresses the most profound experiences of human beings, dance is a complete and self sufficient language. It is the expression of life and of its permanent emotions of joy, love, sadness, hope, and without emotion there is no African Dance.
African dances are as varied and changing as the communities that create them. Although many types of African dance incorporate spirited, vigorous movement, there are also others that are more reserved or stylized. African dances vary widely by region and ethnic community. In addition, there are numerous dances within each given community. At the same time, there is a great deal of similarity in the row