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25 Most Popular Traditional African Dances and Their Origins

Africans take pride in their rich and lively dance culture, where traditional dances stand as pillars of the continent’s diverse heritage.

Celebrated for their distinctiveness and energy, these dances have mesmerized global audiences and even left their mark on Western dance trends.

Whether performed during ceremonies or social occasions, each African ethnic group showcases its own dance style, echoing the depth of the region’s history and heritage.

The list below showcases 25 popular traditional African dances from different regions.

Unsurprisingly, some traditional dances have taken on a modern twist and are popular among the youth.

More African youth are embracing their cultures and bringing their traditions to the world’s stage.

Here are the best traditional African dances and their origins.

1.   Etighi Dance (Nigeria)

Starting the list of traditional African dances is the Etighi dance. Dancers must incorporate leg and waist movements to achieve the dance. It was made popular in 2013 by legendary Nigerian singer, Iyanya in 2013. However, the Etighi dance comes from the people of Akwa Ibom state.

2.   Adumu Dance (Kenya)

Have you ever encountered images of the Maasai jumping high while performing different traditional dances? That’s the Adumu dance!

It’s known as the Maasai Jumping Dance and happens during religious ceremonies, dances, and other traditional events. The exact origin of the dance is unknown, though ‘dumu’ means jump in the traditional maa language.

3.   Mbira Dance (Zimbabwe)

Different African cultures have special dances that take place during ritual ceremonies. An example is the Mbira dance from Zimbabwe. It’s accompanied by the Mbira instrument and performed by the Shona people. The purpose of the dance is to lure spirits to use mediums to relay important messages.

4.   Moribayassa Dance (Guinea)

Another passionate and invigorating dance from West Africa is the Moribayassa dance from Guinea. Traditionally, the dance was performed by women from the Malinke tribe to express their emotions. Its purpose was to purge women of harmful energy after the death of a child or matters such as infertility.

5.   Pat Pat Dance (Senegal)

The Pat Pat dance originated from Senegal and was traditionally performed by the Jola people. It involves patting the body while doing fast leg movements. The Jola would accompany the Pat Pat dance by singing during different ceremonies.

6.   Ewegh Dance (Niger)

The nomadic Tuareg tribe of Niger perform the traditional Ewegh dance. It’s a strong dance the men perform during ceremonies and festivals. They stand in a line, making different facial expressions while wailing.

7.   San Dance (Botswana)

The San are an indigenous group that lives in southern Africa. They perform the San dance when they need to communicate with the spiritual world. During the dance, participants get trance-like and can perform for hours while clapping and singing.

8.   Eskista Dance (Ethiopia)

The Eskista is a traditional Ethiopian dance performed by children, women, and men. It originates from the Amhara people and requires intense shoulder movement. Normally, dancers form long rows and vigorously shake their shoulders to traditional music.

9.   Agbazda Dance (Ghana)

Ghana is home to the traditional Agbazda dance, originally performed by the Ewe people. In the past, the Agbazda dance was popular during times of war. Today, the dance is popular during weddings, funerals, and parties. The Agbazda dance involves five movements: the Banyinyi, Vutsortsor, Adzo, Hatsatsa, and Vutsortsor.

10.Indlamu Dance (South Africa)

The Zulu people of South Africa are world-famous for their amazing traditional dances, such as the Indlamu. Essentially, a dancer participating in the Indlamu lifts one leg above their head and brings it down at a rapid pace. The foot must land on the downbeat perfectly. In the past, the dance was used to prepare warriors for war.

11.Hagallah Dance (Libya)

The people of Bedouin in western Egypt and parts of Libya performed the Hagallah, a traditional celebratory dance. It was common during times of harvest, which was also wedding season. The members of the bride’s family danced to showcase her beauty.

12.Ukambe Dance (Namibia)

The Ukambe dance is one of the traditional dances from Namibia’s Okavango region. Dancers wear wigs made of wool, sisal skirts, and rattles on their ankles. Traditionally, the Ukambe was performed by housewives welcoming their husbands returning from hunting by slowly moving the upper torso and feet while singing.

13.Chaouiya Dance (Algeria)

Algeria is famous for one of the most prominent dances, the Chaouiya from the Amazigh. The dance encompasses muscle isolation to move the belly in a fluid motion. Seen as a maternal dance, the Chaouyia has become the belly dance popular in Arabic culture.

14.Hadandawa Dance (Sudan)

The Hadandawa dance is popular in Sudan and performed by the Beja tribe. They’re traditionally nomadic people famous for their excellent swordsmanship. Men dance the Hadandawa dance, mimicking sword fighting and swift leg movement.

15.Adungu Dance (Uganda)

The Adungu dance accompanies music from the Alur people in northwestern Uganda. Young boys and girls from the community danced during ceremonies and festivals. They use the motifs of the elbows to emphasize movements. Surprisingly, the instrument played during the dance is also called Adungu.

16.Sha’abi Dance (Egypt)

The Sha’abi dance originates from rural Egypt, accompanied by music and traditional musical instruments. However, an urban version of the dance is now popular with the middle class in Egypt. It became popular in the 70s thanks to Ahmed Adawiya, a popular Shaabi singer.

17.Intore Dance (Rwanda)

The Dance of Heroes or the Intore dance is a traditional dance performed by men in Rwanda. Women are prohibited from performing the Intore dance. The Tutsi military performed the Intore dance during pre-colonial times in readiness for conflict.

18.Buraanbur Dance (Somalia)

Baraanbur is a traditional Somali dance accompanied by poetry and singing. It’s performed by women 18 years and older. The multigenerational dance moves were handed down from one generation to the next. The dance involves clapping hands, ululations, and swift foot movement in a circular motion.

19.Kamou Dance (Togo)

We can’t forget the Kamou dance from the Kabiye ethnic group in northern Togo. It’s a popular sacred dance in Togo involving feet thumping and moving the waist. Dancers also play a gourd instrument and wear jingling beads on their feet.

20.Guedra Dance (Morocco)

The Guedra is a traditional trance dance from Southern Morocco, popular among the Tuareg. It’s a joyful dance that requires dancers to lose themselves to the music. There’s a hand flick and one-two rhythm to lift the garment as the dancer prepares to dance.

21.Litolobonya (Lesotho)

Only girls and married women are allowed to dance the traditional Litolobonya dance. The girl version of the dance happens publicly, where everyone can watch. However, the version for married women happens in secret after a live birth.

22.Morna Dance (Cape Verde)

The Morna encompasses more than just traditional dance. Originally from Cape Verde, the Morna is a musical that includes musical instruments, poetry, and singing. The performance was inscribed in 2019 under the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Read More: 8 Most Popular Cape Verdean Dances

23.Lamba Dance (Mali)

Lamba is a traditional Mali dance accompanied by a kora or balafon. Dancers spin around to the beat of traditional drums while throwing up their hands. Traditionally, the Lamba was performed by griots or traditional storytellers.

24.Kalela Dance (Zambia)

Kalela dance from Zambia was popular during colonial times and is from the Luapula Province. Dancers would perform in front of the king for entertainment and during ceremonies such as harvest time. Lead dancers ensure proper formation and guide dancers to follow the beat of the drums.

25.Kete Dance (Ghana)

The Asante court system was the original holder of the Kete dance in Ghana. Royals would enjoy the music and instruments that accompanied the traditional dance. But, in modern times, the dance has been performed at weddings, funerals, and parties.

Faith Zion

Faith Zion is a passionate expert in African culture, history, and mythology, with a focus on ancient African history. As a PhD candidate in History, she has dedicated her academic journey to unraveling the mysteries of African art, religion, and mythology, particularly during the Predynastic period. With years of experience in the field, Faith's extensive research has enriched her knowledge in various mythological traditions, including African, Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, Japanese, and more.

Faith Zion
Faith Zion is a passionate expert in African culture, history, and mythology, with a focus on ancient African history. As a PhD candidate in History, she has dedicated her academic journey to unraveling the mysteries of African art, religion, and mythology, particularly during the Predynastic period. With years of experience in the field, Faith's extensive research has enriched her knowledge in various mythological traditions, including African, Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, Japanese, and more.
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