Long Lost Symbolism Of Dance: War Dances

Published: 14th September 2010
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In a period when people fought and went to war to conquer new countries and regions or to defend their peace in their territories, war dance had two basic functions: to prepare the warriors for the battles and to welcome them back.

Phyrrhic dance

Mainly a manly dance, the Phyrrhic Greek dance has its origin in the times of Socrates and Plato. According to them, dance is the highest form of art and should be gracefully performed by all educated men, dancing being at the same time an exercise to keep the body strong and ready to do its duty on the battlefield. Hence this dance, whose name means the weapon dance, is a form of mock combat taken from Crete and perfected in Sparta.

African war dances

Although having different names and performed in different regions of Africa, African war dances have similar ways of being performed and almost the same function: to show men’s agility, toughness and virtuosity. These dances are a spiritual preparation for war. Performing them, the dancers want to acquire self respect and to strengthen cultural identity in order to be able to counter the influences coming from Western cultures. Other African dances are performed after the war and tell the story of the battles the warriors came back from. This happens because the history and culture of African people is transmitted basically orally. Nowadays these African dances are performed at festivals and funeral of important chiefs and members of the group.

Datun Julud

Datun Julud or the Hornbill dance is also a post war dance, but this time it is performed only by women and not in Africa, but in Malaysia. Its main function was to welcome back the warriors who fought in battles to preserve the peace of the territories. Nowadays, the dance is still performed in longhouses to greet the visitors and tourists. Very elegant, the women have to keep their head still, as their earrings not to balance too much and at the same time to mimic the movements of the bird which gave the name to this dance.


Crossing continents, the Brazilian dance Capoeira was transformed in a fight dance. Capoeira has its origins during the enslavement, and dancers use movements that give the impression of a real fight. The dance is performed in a ‘roda’, or circle of encouraging people, in the middle of which two men fight. They represent the slave fighting against his master in order to obtain his freedom.

From the different examples, it can be seen that the main functions of dance changed along centuries in order to preserve the cultural background of a community.

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