Dance as a Culture

The elements of Middle Eastern, Polynesian, and Brazilian Dance arts have the incorporation of culture in common. By this I mean, the music and ethnic identities are part of the custom of presenting the dance. All of these cultural dances and many others have this in common.

Let’s take a look at Hawaiiana. In a Polynesian luau, many island dances are presented as examples of Polynesian culture such as New Zealand Haka, Samoan Siva, and Hawaiian Hula. Other Polynesian, Melanesian, or Austronesian dances can also be showcased dependent on the knowledge and background of the performer or group.

Digging specifically into Hawaiian dance arts, we know that luau literally means party. It is not uncommon to have more than a dancer in a Hawaiian dance presentation. Of course, the dancer will display the many types of Hula she or he knows and if dancing in a group can change costumes reflecting modern styles of dance attire and a traditional pao or tea leaf skirt. A dancer could be accompanied by a ukulele player and singer or a full blown band. That is because the music is the essence of the entire dance derived from the culture. Many songs reflect the happenings of the times pertaining to the Hawaiian people and island life. Hawaii is not a time capsule so topics of songs change with the times but the sound retains the uniqueness of Hawaiian music such as chant dances, the use of the Ipu, or the strum of the ukulele. In a full luau, food is often served with popular Hawaiian dishes. Food, music, history, and dance are entwined in the music.

Food and culture is also intermingles with Middle Eastern dance arts. Belly Dance is the most popular form of entertainment with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean heritages. Because Middle East culture spans across several plains including Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where ever the culture is thriving, you will also have specific styles like Egyptian, Egyptian, or Moroccan dance for example. Cultural elements such as the Egyptian sword dance come into play in Belly Dance shows. There can also be a lot of crossover, especially with American Belly Dancers who usually try to absorb many cultural styles.

In Brazil the most famous dance arts are Samba and Capoeira. Though some may consider Capoeira more than dance. It has been named a game, martial arts, and just as its own entity. Both Samba and Capoeira have Afro-Brazilian roots. The Samba can be danced informally or used in ballroom dance. The Carnivale is where you will see Samba dancers wearing exquisite head pieces with designs specific to certain provinces. The Samba is a product of celebration and influenced by the drummers or musicians singing.

Capoeira is a beautiful art and watching two players in a round is absolutely hypnotic. The white clothing is significant and the players around the round singing and playing the berimbau create the energy for the game.

Capoeira has influenced other dance styles including Break Dance. You can see L-kick and other gymnastic like movements in a breakdancer’s routine. Breakdance is another example of a genre of dance that has evolved and came about from a culture. The culture of Break dance deriving from street dance and coming out of the initial poetic Hip Hop era in New York from the 1970’s.

It is both challenging and rewarding to immerse oneself in these dances. When it happens, the dancer not only receives a wealth of cultural information they probably never knew, but also a solidarity amongst the dancers that they practices with. One should focus on one style of dance to achieve their highest level of success and understanding rather than try to become well-rounded. That is because the wealth of information is never ending. Although, it is fun to be included in a different world on occasion.


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