What is Polynesian Dance?

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

Polynesian dance is a group of dance styles including Tongan, Hawaiian style dances such as the Hula, Tahitian, Samoan, New Zealand (Maori) and Fijian. Many of these dances expressed feelings or told stories and were often paired with traditional instruments and storytelling.

Tau’olunga is a popular Tongan dance performed to lyrical music with the dancer using hand movements to express their feelings or to translate the meaning in the music. 

Hula is the most recognized form of Polynesian dance. Hula, the Hawaiian word for dance, is a slow dance with smooth motions of the hands, arms, and hips. This graceful dance, once performed solely by women, dates back to ancient Hawaiian culture. 

There are two primary forms of hula. Traditional hula, or hula kahiko, dates back to the 1800s and was a way to honor the goddesses and gods of the island. Simple music, usually drums or bamboo sticks, are used to create the melody for hula kahiko. 

Hula’auana, is a contemporary hula that incorporates aspects of western culture in both the music and movement.

Tahitian dance is often confused with traditional hula because many of the motions are the same. However, Tahitian dance is incredibly fast with quick hip movements performed to the sound of a slit-log drum called the toere. 

Samoan dance styles include movements to drum beats. These performances are visually appealing and often include the tossing of a fireknife called the Siva Afi. 

In Maori culture, the Haka is a traditional dance that involves chanting, stomping, and other movements. It is a ceremonial dance that is often performed as a group at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions. 

Meke is a popular dance style from Fiji. Both women and men perform the meke where they tell stories through song and movement.

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!

About the Author

Sorina Fant