Tahiti is an island in the south pacific and is the largest of the island group that makes up French Polynesia. It was colonized by the French in the 1800s, but the Tahitian language, Reo Tahiti, is also still spoken. One of the most well-known aspects of Tahitian culture is its traditional dance, ori Tahiti.
There are different forms of Tahitian dance but the most recognizable is the ‘ote-a, although it is sometimes confused with Hawaiin hula. It is faster-paced than hula and is more focused on rapid hip shakes set to powerful percussion. Traditionally, Tahitian dance was an important part of Tahiti culture and was used in ceremonies, as a form of prayer, for celebrations, courtship, and to challenge enemies.
Dancers are in rows and the dance is used to tell a story about day-to-day life, using a variety of hip movements such as circles, semi-circles, and figure-8. Men tend to tell stories about adventure and war whereas women tell stories about home life or nature. The dancers wear elaborate costumes such as grass skirts with tassel belts to highlight the hip movements and brightly colored flower headdresses.
Dancing was outlawed in Tahiti in the 1800s, due to a national conversion to Christianity, but Tahitian dance didn’t die. Its culture and the oral traditions that surround it were maintained. There was a cultural explosion in Tahiti in the mid-20th century, and Tahitian dance became known worldwide.
You can learn Tahitian dance in schools such as the Tahia Cambet Tahitian Dance School featured in today’s video. In many classes, you can learn the ‘ote-a (fast percussive hip movements) and you can also learn the slower aparima. As you can see from the video, it is an energetic and physically demanding dance to learn. But it is also incredibly joyful, which is why modern Tahitian dance classes have become so popular throughout the world.
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