EVERY society generally appreciates and accepts dance as an integral component of its existence. The people exhibit certain degree of cultural consciousness over their indigenous dance styles and patterns which is generally perceived as constituents of their identity.
Dance is not seen merely as an aesthetic or artistic venture, but as part of what defines a people. The values, philosophy and heritage of the people are displayed through dance.
Dancing as an art and spirit of the people has evolved over the years from basic body movements to complex twists and rotations. It is however a product of imitation.
In many primitive societies, rituals involving dance are performed at births, festivals, marriages, and deaths. Possibly some of the most significant rituals are those performed for means of fertility such as food and children. Our ancestors asked for rain, sun, harvest, and healthy children.
Uncountable are the indigenous dances in Nigeria. However, few are highlighted below, thus:
Ikpirikpi Ogu – is a popular war dance performed in several parts of Eastern Nigeria. The dance which has its roots from Abia state is performed by a group of muscular men in commemoration of their strength in fighting and winning wars in the past.
Gese – is an ethnic dance that has its source from the religious-ritual and social activities of the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria. Gese has a complex and multiarying features as played on the drums and realised aesthetically in its dance movement.
The Swange – is a traditional dance routine performed by the Tiv people of Nigeria. Swange dance, often described as a boneless dance is purely a recreational dance move performed by men and women alike. The dance is characterized by fluid, contorted, and rhythmic movements.
Ogene – is a popular traditional energy dance from the northern part of Igbo land mainly in Enugu and Anambra. Although known as Egwu Ogene (Ogene Dance), ogene is not the only musical instrument that produces the melody that the ogene dancers dance to. Other instruments that give ogene music its melodious tone include: Oja/Opi, Igba, Oyoko/ Ichaka, Udu and sometimes Ekwe.
Ekombi Dance – is a traditional dance amongst the Efik people in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. The Ekombi dance movements are derived from the motions of the ocean. It is a graceful dance with incredible footwork. Ekombi shows a woman’s beauty and femininity. The dance is also a good platform to choose a partner for marriage. Some writers refer to it as the dance of seduction.
Nkwa umuagbogho – is a maiden dance performed mainly by young maidens from eastern part of Nigeria. Although this maiden dance has many names depending on the community, Nkwa umuagbogho is more popular in Ebonyi State where the maiden dance got the name Nkwa Umuagbogho Dance Group.
The Koroso dance – is a traditional athletic dance popular among the northern Nigerian ethnic group especially the Hausa and Fulani people. Koroso dance which has been performed for centuries took its name from rattling beads called Koroso. The Koroso dancers are usually adorned with colourful costumes wearing beads, bracelets and anklets.
Sharo Dance – is a famous traditional dance from the northern part of Nigeria mainly among the Fulani and Hausa people. Sharo dance is categorised as a dance of rite of passage from adulthood into married life where the fit man in the community takes the most beautiful lady in the community as his bride.
Atilogwu Dance – is a traditionally spirited youth dance from the Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria. Atilogwu is one of the most entertaining Igbo dances that focuses on vigorous body movement and often includes acrobatics flips, high jumps and so on.
The significance and importance of cultural dances cannot be overemphasised. The traditions and norms which are important in every culture can be safeguarded by way of dance. Through cultural dancing, a society plasters its heritage and values on the walls of time. Cultural dancing is also employed as a means of storytelling. Historical events could be portrayed via dance to an audience who may or may not have witnessed those events.
In the olden days, cultural dancing was used to cement the unity amongst villages. Usually, dancers assemble at the village square to entertain all and sundry present. Competitions are often organised as well. The major purpose was for people to meet, chitchat, cheer the dancers and generally have fun. Through dance, social and cultural interactions are expanded.
It provides an overall community feeling of well-being and togetherness. More so, cultural dances attract people from far and wide to a particular locality to watch the dancers perform, consequently increasing revenue for the government through tourism.
The health benefits of dancing are also worthy of mention. Dancing is a form of exercise which builds the joints, aids proper blood circulation, improves the condition of the heart and lungs, increases muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness; increases aerobic fitness, weight management, stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis, better coordination, agility and flexibility, improves balance and spatial awareness, increased physical confidence, improves mental functioning, improves general and psychological wellbeing, greater self-confidence and self-esteem, better social skills, among others.
It can also be used for therapeutic purposes. Dance has over the years also been used to protest oppression.
As unfortunate as it appears, Nigerian society is gradually losing touch of her cultural heritage, including traditional dances. This sad news can be attributed to a number of factors.
*Undue westernisation ranks high as one of the major erosion elements of African traditions. Our people were not able to filter the offers of the colonialists. What offers should be embraced and which offers should be kept at bay. Western education was rightly embraced, however over time, most of our good traditions were trampled upon, demolished and now nears extinction- dance being part of them.
*Failure of parents to educate their children about their heritage and culture. Generations after generations, the consistent lack of adequate historical knowledge becomes an arrow in the heels of our present, and a log in the wheels of our future.
*Radio and TV programs have also lost touch of traditional contents. Many years ago, kids sat to watch programs like ‘Tales by Moonlight’ on TV, or listen to folklores on radio. Today, attentions have been shifted to secular/modern programs and movies which showcase little or nothing about our traditions.
*Very few communities in Nigeria still organise cultural events and festivals where the dance contents and concepts developed by our forefathers are replayed and enjoyed.
*People are becoming too busy to observe their culture. Continuous civilization came with heavy burdens and responsibilities on the masses. With the cost of living skyrocketing daily, one needs to work extra hard to balance expenses with income, leaving one with no time to remember that culture is gradually dying.
*Governments too hardly invest in culture and tourism which ought to be the solid rock of a people.
The negative effects of cultural dance erosion on the society are glaring; with little or no time to come together as a people. Consequently, the bond that held our fathers together has loosened. Trust has become an eccentric concept. Selfishness became the order of the day.
Hatred breeds in our hearts. People are murdered in cold blood daily. Our children cannot eat in the neighbour’s house without fear of being poisoned. All these, to what end?
In the bid to revamp the status and nature of culture in our society, there is a need to revisit the drawing board.
*Subjects like Fine Arts and History, should be introduced to the elementary school curriculum where the younger generation will be taught the theoretical aspects of indigenous cultures and traditions. Practical classes should be held for cultural dancing, use of local musical instruments, folklores and storytelling etc.
*The government should be more involved in preserving and maintaining the culture of her people. There are lots of untapped resources in the African heritage, especially in the field of cultural dance.
*Parents should encourage their children to learn their local dialects, participate in traditionally organised activities, join age grades when they come of age, attend clan meetings, interact with other children in the village, join traditional dance troops, etc.
*A campaign for the enlightenment of the masses on the need to revive our eroding cultural dances should be embarked on across all communication media platforms: television programs, radio, newspapers, magazines, social media channels (facebook, Instagram, twitter etc).
*Finally, there must be a conscious effort by all to contribute towards this project.
These few, amongst many more recommendations will go a long way to ensuring we bring back to life the dying cultural dances, as well as many other cultural activities that defines us as a people.
Dance is an important activity of life. It is as vital as the air we breathe, and as old as the blood in our veins. Over the years, different communities developed different patterns of dance for different purposes and occasions.
In recent times however, focus is being lost on the conservation of our heritage, dance being part of it. We must rise to the stage, against all odds, and re-inject culture into the bloodstream of our society, as well as enlighten the masses on the need to keep our culture alive.