One of my favorite ways to experience another culture is watching traditional dance performances. Every part of the world throughout history has expressed themselves through dance, and the styles of dance can be so unique and specific to a certain place or group of people. Last night, I had the pleasure of watching performers from Yap, American Samoa, and New Zealand as they danced, sang, chanted, clapped, and performed at the 2016 Festival of Pacific Arts hosted on Guam.
The dancers from Yap, both male and female, wore long lush rainbow colored straw skirts, no shirts, woven leis, and headdresses. They powdered their bodies with what appeared to be a yellow resin dye. They sang and chanted as they performed several dances. Holding bamboo poles, they deftly clacked them against the poles of other dancers as they moved.
American Samoa featured over 50 dance performers on the stage. Dressed in dramatic black and red, they performed with bright smiles on their faces. Their speaker engaged the audience with humor while explaining the dances. The style of several dances were similar to Hawaiian hula dancing, but their rhythmic style of complex clapping while both standing and sitting was very specific to American Samoa. They sang and were accompanied by musicians on guitars and drums, and one dance was performed using coconuts clapped together. Their finale dance was performed in the traditional way by the daughter of the Chief, joined in by other dignitaries and members of the community.
The Maori dancers from New Zealand, known by locals as Aotearoa, displayed the fierce look of warriors with painted faces and pukana (bulging eyes and protruding tongues). Wearing beaded tops, woven skirts, and feathers in their hair, they were in constant movement, even between dances, shaking their hands rapidly. As their speaker explained, it’s believed that where there is movement, there is life. The speaker did an excellent job of explaining the significance of the movements and props used throughout the performance as each aspect was demonstrated. Balls on ropes and wooden staffs, which were once used as weapons or to develop the skills and dexterity of hunters and warriors, are now complexly twirled in dances. They took male volunteers of all ages on stage to learn the Haka, or traditional war dance, which is also used to greet visitors.