Dance is one of many human ways of expressing art. But it can be more than just art. Sometimes it is very cultural and has spiritual significance embedded in its moves. In Africa, dance is one of many ways of worship, performed as offerings to the gods of the land. But over time, these things have lost their spiritual significance due to the frequency of the performances and have become mere art.
Traditional dance performances in Nigeria have spiritual significance on the dancers. The dancers “feel it” and for that moment when performing are in tune with the dance. They breathe the breath of the spirits in ways that no one else can understand.
Therefore, we are sharing four Nigerian timeless dance performances that used to be sacred spiritual offerings.
If you live in Lagos, you probably have seen the Eyo festival dance. It is one of the most famous dance dramas in the South-Western region of Nigeria. Previously, during the Lagos Carnival at Tafawa Balewa Square, the Eyo festival dance was the high point of the carnival. It features men masked men in white regalia and women in Iro and Buba. The women do not wear footwear or headgear, their hair is left open because of the Eyo. The women dance with the Eyo as the Eyo exits the stage. This performance always leaves the crowd wowed and geared up for the rest of the festival.
In the northeastern state of Gombe is the Tangra or Tenam dance among the Tangale ethnic group. They usually offer this dance as a supplication to the god of fertility- Eku. They believe it Eku awakens by this dance and blesses people who engage in it with bountiful harvests. The performance features both men and women in pairs, with the men wearing red caps adorned with colourful beads. Tangra is performed before the rainy season.
The Atilogwu dance among the Igbo people is another spiritual performance that has fast become a show of entertainment. Even the meaning of the word “Atilogwu” in English translates loosely as “being possessed by sorcery or witchcraft.” The dance includes acrobatic displays. The dance is performed at festivities and big ceremonies accompanied by exotic cuisines. During the performance, dancers are flung from one end to another by fellow dancers. The idea behind the dance is that the activities (acrobatics) of the dancers are near humanly impossible and so it’s believed they must have been possessed by spiritual beings.
Sango is still till date one of the most spiritual dance performance. The dance opens with women in red carrying pots of fire, chanting the praises of Sango- the god of fire- in a song. When the drums start, the dance is fast and exerts a lot of energy. The Sango is usually heavy built and exemplifies the Yoruba perspective of masculinity in its fullness. The dance is erratic and barely stable. Many times, dancers “fall in the spirits” while performing the Sango dance.