Ancient African Dance Rituals

Then tribes of ancient Africa developed dances that were unique to their villages and area. Most dances were accompanied by the use of musical instruments and vocal singing or chanting.

There are three specific dance categories for ancient African tribes: Religious or ritual, Ceremonial, and Storytelling or Griotic.
West African Dance

Reasons for their Dance:

Religious or ritual dance combines all of the traditions of ancient African life. The Mbira of Zimbabwe had an all-purpose type of dance performance that was done by the Shona to call up their ancestors, fight off floods or droughts, appeal to the guardians of their tribes, seek help in family or village arguments, honor the anniversaries of those that had died, and even add a new chief to the tribe.

Ritual dance acted as a method of bringing the tribe together in a kind of unification that enhanced the health, prosperity, and peace of the village.

Ceremonial dances were those that were performed at important times in the existence of the village or specific individuals. Ceremonial dance was used to celebrate the welcoming of visitors, rites of passage for coming into adulthood, and even a successful hunt.

These are dances that are shared by the entire village and act as a happy moment. In the Maasai tribe, they have a jumping dance that is only performed by the tribe’s young men.

They each take turns jumping as high as they can while music is being played. The purpose of the dance is to demonstrate their strength and stamina.

Dance and Storytelling:

The storytelling or griotic dance are those that are done only by the village griot. This is the storyteller that retains all of the messages and important occurrences of the village.

The stories can relate religious, historic, or tales about their gods. Many are designed to teach children lessons about good and bad behavior, while others are strictly for the purpose of passing information down from one generation to another.

Most ancient African tribes didn’t have any form of writing so the griot was responsible for all knowledge.

The Lamban or Lamba dance was a dance that the griot performed to musical instruments that he played and often sang while the stories were told.

African dances are performed with incredible rhythm that is mutually shared by many of the village members. Musical instruments of all types are played and the dances are very sophisticated.

The dance involves the whole body and can including stamping, scuffing, shuffling and hopping, and often portray movements of nature and animals. African dances involved what is called “polyrhythmic choreography.”

This is a type of dance that includes two or more simultaneous rhythms with torso, leg, arm and head movements to match.

Many of the movements can involve spiritual elements but can also involve imitating such animals as the stomping of elephants or the flight of a bird.

Dance Purpose:

Each village or tribe created their own specific type of dance so that it was part of their unique culture. The movements were part of their life experiences, allowing a flow of beauty and graceful rhythm.

Dance was the bond that held communities together and celebrated all of the important things that happened in their lives.

Traditional African dance involves the expression of movement combined with emotions, however, there are also more reserved dances that are expressive of the village styles.

In some cases the variations from one tribe to another add more acrobatics, while others are specific to the social purpose.

  • Training for the various dance types began early in age.
  • Traditional ancient African dance is thought to be the oldest in the world.
  • In the sub-Saharan dance style, there aren’t any “couples dancing.”
  • Most of the African dances are accompanied with drums.
  • Most of the African villages had a “dance master” that taught the various dances.
  • Traditional African dances were very specific and had no improvisation.
  • African dancers often wore costumes that could be made of natural elements such as leaves, wood, plant husks, or even animal skin.


What are the three types of African dance categories?

Religious or ritual, Ceremonial, and Storytelling or Griotic

Which African tribe are known for their leaping dance?


Name two types of ceremonies where African dance would be used

welcoming of visitors, rites of passage for coming into adulthood, and even a successful hunt

What area of Africa will you never find couples dancing?


Who teaches the village their specific type of dance?

the dance master

What instrument accompanies most African dances?

the drums