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What is Afro or African Dance?

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By Becky Dimock / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

African dance describes a wide range of dance styles that originated in sub-Saharan Africa. These dance styles are known for having a driving rhythm.  The steps frequently involve the entire body, and often dancers must rely on musical signals rather than strict counting.

Woman doing African Dance

African dances generally express the lives and beliefs of tribes and cultures, instead of focusing on couples or individuals.  They might also be used to tell stories or to teach. Traditional African dances might be based in tribal concerns such as rainfall, fertility, and the journey to adulthood.  More modern dances are often rooted in issues such as politics and racism. 

In many areas of Africa, these dances are still practiced and are taught to younger generations in order to preserve and celebrate tribal heritage. Rhythms from African dance expanded across the world to influence other dance styles including Brazilian samba, salsa, and Colombian cumbia. 

African dance is offered at many colleges that have a dance program.  Because there’s such a plethora of African dance styles, students might take an African dance class multiple times and have a different experience every time.  Additionally, because African dance influenced so many other forms of dance, African dance is often combined with other styles of related dance techniques in college classes.  For example, your class might be Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Peruvian, depending on the expertise of the teachers at the college.  Taking an African dance class helps students learn specific techniques, understand new ways of relating to music, and gain cultural awareness.  

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!