Glossary of Tahitian Dance Steps

I am adding a glossary of Tahitian dance steps for my students at (Edit: I am no longer teaching on Moxie. However, keep up the good work, and follow me on Instagram or Facebook for more practice in the future.)

Tahitian Dance is called Ori Tahiti. It is a beautiful dance art form from French Polynesia. The hips move to the beat of the drum. The two main dances from Tahiti are the O’tea drum dance and the Aparima storytelling dance. This class focuses on the exciting movement of the Tahitian Islands to create a culminating and exciting dance and workout experience. Class ends with a short routine giving the participant a better understanding of this art form while getting an exuberant workout. Join any time. Each class begins with a quick warm-up, stretch, and breakdown of movement phrases. The result is a heightened awareness of Tahitian dance movements while experiencing a high level of oxytocin through the power of dance.

The following are guidelines to help understand the movements in breakdown:

Tahitian dance steps rely heavily on the legs alternately bending the knees to achieve the desired execution of movement.

  • Tamau – The Tahitian hip bump. Side to side hip movements. The trajectory of the bump creates a “U” shape. Alternate the bending of the knees for the hip to bump out side to side.
  • Fa’arapu – This is the most common and important movement for the Ori Tahiti. The hips circle from the side, back, other side, and front in a three dimensional manner. Make this movement seamless. Alternate the knees to increase the speed. This is a rapid hip movement. The feet are together.
  • Ami – This is similar to the Hawaiian Hula step Ami. Like Fa’arapu, the hips circle from side, back, side, and front. This is done in a slower fashion.
  • Flower – The dancer is situated in a semi-sitting position. Prominently, this step is executed by facing a front corner opposite the audience trajectory. One heel is raised up, both knees are bent. The dancer circles the hip up and back. This can also be done in a figure 8 motion with the hip.
  • Varu – This is a three-dimensional figure 8 and can be done traveling as well as stationary. One hip comes forward and circles to the back corner seamlessly transitioning to the other hip. The dancer comes up on the ball of the foot of the leading leg and lowers as the hip moves back.
  • Afata Box – There are two ways to do Afata. One is the box. The hips move to points in space, creating the shape of a box. This is done with the heel of the opposite leg up and knee bent. 1) Move the right hip front corner, back corner with the left leg bent and the left heel up. 2) Move the left hip back corner and finish with the left hip bumping to the front corner with the right heel up and the right leg down. Both legs alternate bending as the opposite hip bumps.
  • Afata Diamond – The diamond is done similarly except the direction of the bump goes straight to the right, back, left, and front. The hips bump straight side, back, side, front creating the “diamond” shape in space.
  • Hura – This is a vertical spaced figure 8 movement utilizing the hips and only from the waist. Alternate bending the knees. The opposing heel comes up as the working hip moves up, out, and down in a vertical circular motion. The opposite hip continues the circle with a seamless transition.
  • Ha’amenene – This is a layered dance step utilizing the Ami and the Fa’arapu. This is a technically difficult step that requires a bit of coordination. The concept includes performing a Fa’arapu while taking the hips in a large Ami trajectory and shifting the weight of the dancer right, back, left, front. The feet are together and the knees alternate rapidly.
  • Hui – This is also a Hawaiian Hula step, but done in Tahitian takes a slight variation. The hips move side to side, but you add a twisting the hip bumps as one foot stomps down, the other foot “kicks” by lifting inwardly in a rapid fashion. The Hawaiian Hui is more percussive. The Ori Hui is still percussive, however the dancer is moving rapidly and it is more of an accent to the movement.
  • Amaha – Step forward and tamau, step together. Other side.
  • Fa’atere – This is a side traveling step. With one heel up step to the side. The flat foot is the leading foot. Tamau the hips sharply side to side.
  • Tua Ne’e/Body Roll – Undulate the chest forward, back, contract the stomach, and push the hips back smoothly. Body rolls are done as a choreographic choice and are not traditional. The majority of Ori Tahiti includes arm movements, hip movements, traveling steps with hip movements, stationary steps with hip movements whilst keeping the chest very still.
  • Te’i – Typically done with tamau on the balls of the feet. Rapid hip movements.
  • Ruru/Vibration – The dancers hips, buttocks shake with a whole body rapid front to back movement using the heels to power through the vibration. This is mostly done in a solo and not to be overused.
  • Duck Walk – This is another advanced step which requires the dancer to sit on her heels, weight on the ball of the feet. The hands clasp in front with the arms straight forward. The hips alternate side to side as the feet shuffle forward.
  • Ori Opu – This is the Tahitian belly roll. It differs from Belly Dance roll in that the focus is on the upper abdominal muscle area. Here is a great video for practicing this step.
  • Fa’arapu Variations – There are many possible variations for fa’arapu. Because the circle is infinite. This includes kneeling, rhythmic variations, and foot patterns. Practice the basics first and work your way into learning combos and variations.

Photo by Julius Silver on


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