Dance in Tahiti

Traditional dancing plays an important part in the lives of many Pacific Islanders and Tahiti, in particular, has earned a reputation for the skill of its dancers. With their circling hips, precise arm and foot movements and beautiful costumes, Tahiti’s dancers have become famous for their creativity and rhythm. In ancient times, dancing was directly related to all parts of life in Tahiti. People would dance for any reason – seducing a mate, praying to a god, or welcoming a visitor. Before explorers arrived, a heiva (festival) with dancing and feasting was an integral part of community celebrations.

Dance was also used to tell stories and share history. Elaborate costumes were sometimes worn, but other dances were more provocative and even performed naked. Dancing was banned in Tahiti when the missionaries arrived in the early 1800s, but many people still danced in secret. Much of the traditional dance culture and movements were lost in these years, but at the beginning of the 20th century dance in Tahiti made its comeback. It was authorised to celebrate the taking of the Bastille, and was soon a part of all official festivities. Traditional instruments, such as drums, conch shells and nasal flutes, are still used.

The four main dance styles in Tahiti are the ote’a, the aparima, the hivinau and the pa’o’a. The fast, rhythmic ote’a is the best known of the Tahitian dances. It was originally danced by men but today it is also performed by the women. Characterised by wide, abrupt movements and a quick, erratic rhythm, this Tahitian dance is often inspired by local legends, with themes such as spear throwing, fighting and love. The colourful costumes include a more – a swishing skirt made of vegetal fibres, headpieces, necklaces and feathers.

Visitors wanting to experience the local dance and culture of Tahitishould try to time their visit for July, when the annual Heiva i Tahiti (Tahiti Festival) is underway in the capital of Papeete. This spectacular month-long festival celebrates Tahitian culture with dance, drumming, singing and sporting competitions as well as arts and crafts displays. Many groups present exciting shows with colourful costumes and creative dances, offering visitors the chance to see the Tahiti's best dancers in action.

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