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Zulu Traditional Dance

Zulu means the people of heaven, which is a friendly and hospitable culture.They have an expressive language punctuated with distinctive click sounds.The Zulu people are proud of their nation and treasure their heritage.

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During the 16th and 17th centuries, they had a powerful king named Shaka Zulu. He helped expand the Zulu tribe territory and claimed that he was king of all Africa. Many cultures in Africa today still have traditions that were influenced by the Zulu people even after their downfall. One of the most noticeable rituals that most cultures in eastern and southern Africa have in common is the Zulu dance.

Dancing and singing is a big part of the Zulu people lifestyle, “Each dance or movement symbolizes an event that is happening within a clan”. Dancing is one of the most important types of community rituals and it is included in most Zulu ceremonies. The Zulu dance is a sign of happiness, and it occurs at significant events like childbirth, weddings and war victories. As in most cultures, “dances serve the purposes of rite of passage or bonding, or matchmaking in a supervised environment”. Their traditional dances celebrate important community events. The dances are taught to young boys and girls at an early age.

Through dance, the Zulu people tell the “journey of their clan bridging generational gaps to a unique form of story telling”. Zulu dance involves high stepping and stomping the ground in rhythm. Dancers hold weapons and shields with their hands often raised high. Some times the dancers kick over their head and fall to the ground in a “crouch” position. In Zulu dances, ankle rattles, shields, headdresses and belts are used as props and to “differentiate social class and societal roles.

Traditional Zulu dance dress code is animal skin for men and skirts decorated with hardwood beads for women. The children don’t cover their thighs but adults are expected to. Both male and females “wear limited clothing which consists predominately of cowhide and bare chest, adorned with garlands of beads”. Unmarried women dance bare- breasted and don’t have red beads in their skirts because that color is reserved for married women. Everything worn in the Zulu traditional dance has a symbolic meaning; the colors of the beads and their arrangement dictate the language of the dance. Different types of beads are worn to send a message to the opposite sex during the courtship dance.

There are five main dance types that most cultures in Africa perform. The welcome dance is to show the guests how talented the villagers are, and to show the visitors that they are happy to receive them. Celebration or love dance is performed certain festivals like weddings and anniversaries. The coming of age dance is to celebrate the coming of age of young men and women, many tribes follow and celebrate this festival. The dancers perform in front of tribal members which gives them immense pride and confidence. Last but not least are the warrior dances, the warrior dance “movements are fusions of warfare movements such as stabbing with the artistic movement of the body according to the drum beat. Summoning and possession dances are the most common folk dances in Africa because they are very important in many religions. This dance is performed in almost all tribes for calling a spirit. The Zulu culture practices these different dance styles even though it has different names for them.

When Shaka Zulu was king, he began the reed dance as a symbol of unity with his people. During September, Zulu girls congregate at the royal palace before the king for the traditional reed dance to celebrate virginal purity. In order for a girl to part in this dance, they have to be virgins between the ages of 16 to 20. It is called the reed dance because the girls pick reeds from the river and bring them to the palace for the king. During this dance most kings chose their wives. The purpose of the reed dance is to “allow Zulu maidens to meet their king and mingle with princesses while delivering reed sticks”. The reed dance is said to promote marriage, loyalty and chastity. Today it is still practiced in effort to stop the spread of Aids.

Ingoma is another type of dance of the Zulu tribe. It is performed by boys and girls accompanied with people chanting without drums in the background. The girls are bare-chested and wear woollen skirts; they also wear seed pod rattles around their ankles to allow their high kicks. In the Ingoma dance, the boys and girls dance separately are helped by another group that claps for rhythm. This dance is performed for ceremonies such as coming of age, weddings and before going hunting.

Indlamu dance is “derived from the war dances of the warriors”. It is danced before battle and after winning a war. It is performed by men of all ages wearing full traditional attire like head-rings, ceremonial belts, ankle rattles, shields and spears. Drums and people whistling accompany the dancers when performing the Indlamu. Dancers form a “mock combat, showing off their strength and mastery of weapons”. One of the movements done in the Indlamu dance is fighting imaginary enemies with spears and swords, their facial expressions make the dance feel real. The dancers lift one leg in the air, bringing it down and switching it with the other one, after a certain amount of leg lifts the dancers purposely fall to the ground on their back. Dancers are more likely to make eye contact with the audience during the Indlamu dance.

Imvunulo is a parade to show off the traditional attire of Zulu men and women. It is danced by one participant at a time indicating ones role in the society. The dress code is determined by age and gender; young girls don’t cover their thighs while adults do. Men wear cotton shorts called the “amabeshu” while women wear leather skirts and beaded aprons. A leather skirt worn by woman sends a message to the opposite sex that she desires to become pregnant. Colors in the beaded aprons also help indicate where the dancer comes from. This dance would fall in the welcome dance category under the African dance types.

Last is the Isicathamiya dance, “it is danced by men and boys in a line or an arc”. This dance is accompanied with a lead singer that sings about modern issues but “uses ancient melodies”. The lead singer provides rhythm for the dancers. This dance is also danced at weddings, and it is internationally known. Families of the bride and groom take turns to “out do each other in the beautiful dancing and songs”.

Dancing is very important in the Zulu clan because “Zulu history survives through dance in similar fashion as cultures built on oral tradition”. Dance ceremonies bring the community together as everybody takes responsibility to for training others especially the young ones. Many Zulu dances today deal with social issues like Aids, crime and migrant labour work. This helps to “promote global sensitivity and social awareness” in South Africa. In Zulu land, the dances are usually performed by males and involve a high level of athletism. Zulu dances help the people to praise, criticize and even work with each other.

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