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10 Popular Traditional African Dances You Should Know

Culture and tradition is something that the Africans take very seriously. That is why just within a country, there are numerous cultures that are very sacred to the people. These cultures are made up of the food, folklores, myths, legends, festivals, language, songs. And dances some of which are rooted into the hearts of the people. Folk dances from kizomba, atilogwu, mbira dance to kete dance. Here’s our list of 10 popular traditional African dances across Africa the continent you should know. Brace yourself, explore these popular dances and get ready to groove!

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Atilogwu Dance

Atilogwu dance
The atilogwu dancers. © Ajidans Studios

Originating from the eastern part of Nigeria, the Atilogwu dance is a highly expressive and vigorous dance. We can confidently tell you that it is not for the faint hearted. The dance features a lot of body movements and acrobatics that go hand in hand with the rhythms and beats of their instruments. The name “Atilogwu” which means ‘is this magic’ in Igbo language, came up when the dance was first initiated, seeing how much of body movements were involved and at a very fast pace too. The people watching had to ask whether the dance was an act of magic, can blame them. We would probably ask the same too! The dancers are always clothed in colorful attires that make you love the dance even more. The dance is loved by many both home and abroad and is performed during special occasions.

Kete Dance

kete dance top traditional African Dance
Kete is a traditional music and dance of the Asante people. © thevillagegh

Found in the Akan region in Ghana, the Kete dance is a popular dance amongst the Ashanti people. This is also an expressive dance that is usually done in a semi-circle in which the dancer(s) uses hand gestures as a form of communication. For the dance attires, the men usually have a cloth that is worn over their shoulder. And while the women put on what they call kaba and ntama which are also very colorful. The kete dance is a very interesting and engaging to watch, just like most dances in Africa, it is also very symbolic.

Kalela Dance

Top Traditional African Dance kalela
Kalela Dance. © musicinafrica.net

This is a popular tribal dance amongst the people of Bisa, Ngumbo and Ushi in Zambia. The kalela dance is usually accompanied by huge drums and some heavy whistle blowing by all the dancers. The drums are usually played with sticks and beaten rigorously to produce a very beautiful sound. This dance is performed by both women and men all dancing in a circular motion using a call and response form. This particular dance is said to have played a very important role on the copperbelt during Zambia’s struggle for independence, so it is a very significant dance. The kalela dance is usually performed for entertainment purposes, during leisure and for special occasions.

Mandinka Dance

Usually danced by the women while the men are drumming for them, the Mandinka dance is a popular dance amongst the people of Gambia. With over 73 ethnic groups, the cultural heritage of the Gambians is one that is very rich and taken very seriously. The dancers are mostly known for their expressive arm movements and footwork. There are different dance styles when it comes to the Mandinka dance. The first one is called lenjeng which is a fertility dance and the other one is called bara’wullo this one is the work song dance. The dancers while dancing show movements of their head cocked to the side, stamping of their feet to the ground and their arms flapping up and down. It is often said all these make the dance look like a graceful bird flying.

Indlamu Dance

Top Traditional African Dance Indlamu dance
Dance performers at the annual Indlamu dance festival. © Presidencyza/Flickr

The South Africans are people that hold their music and dance in high esteem. With each of their dances expressed both physically and emotionally, one cannot help but love their dances. The Indlamu dance is probably the most popular dance amongst the Zulu people in South Africa, very similar to the Ndebele dances from Zimbabwe; it is danced by the men and often called the warrior dance. It is used to show strength, and prowess when it comes to fighting. It is a very entertaining dance to watch, especially with the songs that accompany the dance.

Gota Dance

Popular amongst the Ewe and Volta regions of Togo and Ghana respectively, the Gota dance is a very rhythmic and energetic dance that literally makes use of the whole body, it also makes use of the kpalongo drums that are used to create a unique sound. It is a very exciting and engaging dance to watch. The beat goes on allowing everybody to be properly engaged, both performers and audience, and then suddenly it stops and the dancers have to remain in that same position till the music returns, this creates a sense of euphoria in everybody thereby, making it a dance that is very loved.

Zaouli Dance

This rather ironic dance is common amongst the Gouro people of Ivory Coast. How ironic you might ask? The zaouli dance is always danced with a mask that represents the daughter of Zaouli and shows the face of a smiling young woman, but the irony there is that this mask is always worn by a man, see what we mean now? The zaouli dance like most dances in Africa is also an entertaining dance that is performed during festivals, funerals, and basically any celebration you can think of. The emphasis of this dance is placed on the foot movements and quick rhythmic steps that follow the sound of the flutes and other accompanying instruments, while the upper part of the body remains stationary.

Likhuba Dance

Performed amongst the people of Sena tribe in southern part of Malawi, the likhuba dance is performed to cure any psychological illness in women. It is a very energetic and acrobatic dance that showcases male prowess and strength. It has been said that after this demonstration and dance, the woman in question is cured. Awesome stuff!

Kizomba Dance

This is a very sensual dance by the people of Angola. Captivating, breathtaking and very interesting to watch, the kizomba dance is a dance that showcases the connection and intimacy between partners. It is a rather slow, steady and close dance that retains the attention of the spectators. While some conservative folks consider it to be quite uncomfortable, the kizomba dance is fast gaining its popularity even beyond the shores of Africa.

Mbira Dance

The Mbira dance is a religious dance amongst the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is performed by the elders of the community during ancestral ceremonies like the Bira. The dance is used to invite ancestral spirits into the community. The dancers do a lot of foot movements, pauses and high jumps. The Mbira dance is usually performed in the community with a whole lot of spectators but it can also be a solo dance as well.

We hope you’ve been able to learn something, now put on your dancing shoes and let’s dance!

Brace yourself and enjoy few dance clips to these African dances. Watch Now!


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