Traditional dances feature the very elements for which a culture stands for. To an outsider watching a dance, dancers may appear to simply be jumping around having a goodtime.
However a good history lesson about any given culture will reveal that their traditional dance is deeply imbedded with meanings and symbols that reflect the cultural beliefs and their way of life.
For example, since the early days cattle has held a lot of significance and importance in Rwandan culture. We see this aspect reflected in the traditional Rwandan dance, where a lot of emphasis is placed on the cow rhythms and movements. Traditional Rwanda dancers usually mimic the horns of a bull and it movement using their hands and footsteps.
Dancing is not just for entertainment purposes; in certain African countries it also tells stories of day-to-day activities including work.
Let’s take a look for example at the Miniana group in West Africa where the dance steps are inspired from the movements of farm workers, who weed fields. The steps involve workers holding tools, forming a circle and then greeting one another.
The most interesting part is that every individual has a special song and an accompanying rhythm to help the work progress faster.
A new rhythm starts for the worker who finishes first and then that person does a solo dance as well. This continues till the field is completely cleared off weeds.
Traditional dance is often accompanied with music; popular examples include the membrane drums and Xylophones—which are particularly common in East Africa.
There is also a spiritual aspect that underlines many African dances; people believe dance connects them to their ancestors and nature.
Today some countries are using their rich dance culture to promote tourism where foreigners pay money to watch the locals dance.
For example in Massai Mara Kenya, tourists are given the opportunity to get a sneak preview into the lifestyle of the Massai people, a tour is provided through the village and finished off with a performance by Massai dancers.
Traditional dancing has also become profitable at cultural shows and events.
African dances may be great to watch, however they are not just for show, they communicate to onlookers by telling stories through body movements and symbolic gestures.
The dances are not based on shallow foundations but rather those that define everything a given people stand for.
It therefore comes as no surprise that traditional dances have seen the test of time and are still standing strong among the numerous diverse cultures across Africa.