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Interesting Facts and History of Tahitian Dance

Payal Kanjwani
For Tahitians, dancing is a symbolic representation of their cultural tradition. They narrate a story through their dance with elegant moves. Go further, pour obtenir connaître certains faits (to get to know some facts) about Tahitian dance which is simply fascinating.
People often mistake Tahitian dance for Hula. These Polynesian forms have a storytelling aspect in their dance, but Hula dancing has more of hand movements, while the Tahitian dance form has more to do with the movement of hips.
Tahiti, the largest island of French Polynesia, has a long and troubled history. Despite all the knocks, the Tahitians succeeded in popularizing Tahitian culture, and maintaining their heritage through their dance forms. For them, dance is not just a sport or a hobby; it's a form of art.
Tahitian dances depict different aspects of life. They would dance to celebrate and express their joy like on someone's birth or marriage, during prayer and worship, to welcome guests, to seduce a mate, to challenge an enemy, and likewise.
These dances involve intricate and athletic moves. Modern Tahitian music is an amazing blend of Polynesian rhythm and Western tunes.
Tahitians are known for their graceful hand gestures and fast hip movements. They are also popular for their peculiar costumes and accessories. People all over the world visit Tahiti to participate in Polynesian festivals and enjoy Tahitian dances. They have many dance styles with ʻōteʻa being the most prominent one.

Facts About Tahitian Dance Styles

The ʻōteʻa

The ʻōteʻa is one of the most popular Tahitian dance styles which has a pre-European existence. This dance is portrayed by rapid hip-shaking moves with the percussion ensemble accompanying it. The dancers convey a story with hip movements and hand gestures.
Earlier, the ʻōteʻa was restricted only to men; women used to perform a dance form named 'the hura' which was the Tahitian vernacular for hula which is now non-existent. Today, however, this dance is performed by both, men and women, together (ʻōteʻa ʻāmui = united ʻō.) or separately, if desired.
The choreography is usually based on daily life activities in which the dancers are made to stand in rows, executing figures like circles, semi-circles, the figure 8, etc., with swaying hips.
Men may use spears or paddles as props, and perform on themes like sailing, warfare, and other daily occupations in general. While women typically choose themes from nature or home, like―combing their hair, praying, flight of a bird, etc.
This dance calls for a music with fast rhythm and no singing. Drum is the most widely used musical instrument.
The traditional costumes for this dance incorporate long grass skirts adorned with tassel belts that highlight the hip motion. The costumes may be color-coordinated including colors like fluorescent pinks and greens, accented with decorated headpieces made of straws or plant-fiber. Modern versions of these costumes have replaced grass skirts with synthetic laces and mylar.

The Aparima

This traditional dance is performed by a group of female dancers enacting a play through their dance. The typical story of the play constitutes a boy meeting a girl and falling in love, and living happily ever after.
These dancers are dressed in pareo, the Tahitian word for a wraparound skirt.
Aparima dance comprises intricate hand movements and gestures involving everyday life scenarios.

The Hivinau

This is a modern Tahitian dance usually performed towards the end of a ceremony. The setup goes this way―one lead dancer followed by a group of dancers. The lead would go on improving the choreography as the dance progressed into different stages.
It involves men and women, both, forming two concentric circles, and moving around in opposite directions.
The dance demonstrates scenes which reflect sea life for e.g. showing fishing gestures.
Technically, this is the easiest yet most magnificent of all Tahitian dance forms.

The Pa'o'a

Pa'o'a is a newer Tahitian dance form which is associated with tap fabrication where the dancers are made to beat the bark of a tree in unison.
The dancers sit on the ground forming circles and tapping their thighs in sync with the music playing in the background. A couple of dancers move inside this circle.
Pa'o'a dancers normally portray themes like hunting or fishing.

Interesting Facts About Tahitian Dance

Being a popular way of cultural expression, Tahitian dance experienced a setback in the 19th century. The British settlers in Tahiti found it provocative and offensive. The sensual movements of the dance in costumes that were deemed revealing caused a furore among the settlers. Most forms of Tahitian dance were abolished by 1820.
In order to revive the culture of Tahiti, this dance experienced resurgence in the 20th century.
These dances gained rapid popularity and ultimately became a way of expression of Tahitian culture and history.
The typical outfits of Tahitian dancers include grass skirts made of pili grass with the belts made of flowers and vines. The headdress and the headpieces are made of straws and feathers.
Traditional dances included chanting with drums (log of wood, tree limbs) and pahu (drum made from shark skin), while the modern versions feature percussion with no singing. Conch shells, nasal flutes are some of the alternatives to drums.