Dance Blog

Origins and Variations of Tribal Dance – Part 1

It’s easy to see that in an age of music videos and video game emotes that all come with ‘dances’ as standard, that sanctity of dance and the power it was once thought to hold is long gone. Gone are the days that people danced to bring about something spectacular in the world, gone are the days that dance meant something other than an additional gimmick to sell a product or market a song. However, there are still groups of people out there who use dance in its traditional ways despite the diluted term it has in the west. From what we can tell dances were a part of social culture from an early age, and seeing tribes use dance in all manner of ways shows that it wasn’t just people doing the Macarena for fun. Dance is ritualistic, and a powerful tool for connecting not just with other members of the tribe but with the forces of nature and the deities that oversee them. For hundreds of years clusters of people all over the globe have mastered and passed on dances to the new members of their communities, but just like there is no smoke without fire there is no dance without music.

Tribal dances began using the most natural instrument we had – our voice. You will probably be familiar with the chants of African or Native American tribes that provide a steady rhythm for dancers to move to. From throat singing to high pitched wails, different cultures incorporated variations to their styles but overall the voice was a built-in instrument that allowed everyone a starting point. From here we can see that rudimentary percussion instruments slowly got added to the tribal orchestra. Drums made from animal skins are common, as are shakers of different kinds. From turtle shell rattles, to grain filled bamboo sticks, different combinations of bones to modern tin cans filled with rice, whatever the tribes-people could create became a part of the collective. Add this to the chorus of voices both male and female and you have yourself the basis for a dance that can go on for a long time.

Today we take for granted the easy access to music that we have, no longer even having to have it in a physical form, we can stream high fidelity songs to our devices instantly. With the ability to search genres and artists at our whim, we no longer need the presence of a particular elder to come and perform, nor do we need thirty plus members of our community to come and sing in order to provide a rhythm and melody. This simplicity and ease means that we no longer associate music with the special and spiritual occasions that our ancestors did. What this also means is that we no longer use music as a precursor to dance. Think about it, how often do you actually dance when you are listening to music? The only time this seems to happen is in gatherings, only when groups actually come together for a shared occasion (a wedding for example) does modern dance actually touch the edges of its tribal origins.

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