African Jazz Dance and its Global Influence by Lyla Wood

The dance community is only beginning to embark on the deep and rich culture of African Jazz Dance. Its influence on a person’s own spiritual development reaches farther than just the dance moves themselves. It is a technical dance form that brings a light of joy to the world of dance. A dancer is able to find a deeper and more fun style of dancing through African Jazz Dance. While Africa is not the only continent that participates in the dance style, its rich culture can connect an individual to a new spiritual level no matter where you are. The different styles of African Jazz Dance connect in different ways to the ways of everyday African culture.

There are many different styles of African Jazz that circulate the large continent of Africa. Each dance in each country has a different purpose and place that it may be performed. While African Jazz dance is traditional among many parts of Africa, “African dances are as varied and changing as the communities that create them,” (African Dance). African Jazz dance is used to express life experiences and mark life changing events such as weddings, honoring others, encouraging abundant crops, and reaching the spiritual realm. The dance has much more meaning to the people that participate in it than it simply having fun and being dance technique.

There is a traditional movement of the body that accompanies the rhythm of the music. Certain elements of the dance style stays true no matter where you may be or whythe dance is being performed. The traditional style includes “polycentric and isolated movements” (The History). Each part of the body moves almost independently from the other parts of the body. It connects to the rhythm of the drum that is being played. This basic rhythmic style has influenced dances that are used around the world such as jazz, hip hop, musical theater, and even tap.

The ritual style of African Jazz dance connects the people dancing toward a higher power. The dances may be used to request good crops for that season or better weather for the crops to grow. Connecting to some sort of spiritual realm is not specific to just African Jazz dance. It happens in many styles of dance and many other places other than Africa. African Jazz dance is much more prominent in its connection in a religious manner more than many others though; it is used almost as a way of prayer or worship toward a higher power. The Mbira style from Zimbabwe is a great example of this. The dance style is a “ceremonial or religious dance- danced at communal religious observances led either by priests or griots who perform ritual dance” (Dance Resources). Having a priest lead the dances is special to the culture of places such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and a couple of other African countries. This video shows the people in Mali in West Africa performing a ritual dance with masks.

Similar to cultures in other parts of the world, there are traditional dances performed at large life events. Arguably one of the most life changing events would be a wedding. In the African Dance culture, you may have loved ones perform different dances at the wedding. “One example is the Nmane dance performed in Ghana. It is done solely by women during weddings in honor of the bride,” (African Dance).  Dances such as this connect all the many people involved in such a huge life event in a beautiful way. 

After a long and arduous trip, having people perform a welcome dance for your arrival could instantly brighten your mood, and this is exactly how many people in African countries greet their guests. It also builds a large community and shows visitors the open-minded spirit of the people in the community. It shows respect toward the visitor as well. “Yabara is a West African Dance of Welcome marked by The Beaded Net Covered Gourd Rattle (sekere- pronounced Shake-er-ray). It is thrown into the air to different heights by the female dancers to mark tempo and rhythm changes,” (African Dance).  

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This is an impressive way to mark the welcoming of someone new in the community and shows off the amazing skill and rhythm of the dancers. Having such a bright spectacle as a welcome sets the stage for an amazing visit.

Telling a story through movement captivates the hearts and minds of the people watching. The story may not always be a story that is used to teach others or is historically accurate. African Jazz dance is special in that it is used to tell and to teach stories of historical events. This is called the Griotic dance. Dance leaves a lasting impact on people that they may remember for a lifetime. Seeing real life events in a beautifully displayed manner is a beautiful way to learn about your own country and its history.

Community plays a large role in the culture of Africa. The communal dance represents the importance of community to their people. “People gather together in response to the beating of the drum and in anticipation of sharing with one another a sense of belonging and solidarity,” (Circle in African Dance). Having a community centered around the joy of music and dance can bring people together in a very special way. This alone shows how important a sense of community is in some of the African culture.

Each dance style has a history that influences the entire dance world. Ballet is another dance style that did not originate in America but is practiced here. Many dance styles did not originate in America; however, African Jazz dance is different in the fact that not only is it a prominent dance style to this day, but it influenced other dance styles as well. The entire Jazz style of dance originated in Africa through the traditional African Jazz dance. It is “an inadvertent import to American with the slave trade. The African people were steeped in rich somatic cultures in which dance was sacred and a celebratory tradition,” (History of African Dance). This dance was a way to bring joy to all in the hardest of times. This dance style didn’t only begin this way but continues to build joy to all those that watch and participate.

Dance companies throughout the world today teach many styles of dance that originated in a multitude of different places throughout the world. Blending together different styles of dance is not necessarily a new concept, however it has become more prominent in the dance community recently. “A number of U.S. dance companies have created a unique dance style by blending traditional African and modern dance,” (African Dance). Unique dance styles may be difficult to come by nowadays. It can seem as if everything has already been done. However, when you have beautiful dance styles already existing, to blend them can create new and rich dance styles themselves. African Jazz brings together so many different styles in a new and unique way.

African Jazz Dance has a unique style of dance that includes different traditions for countless different occasions in the African culture. It expands throughout the world and has 

influenced dance styles that are used even today. It has a history that is rich. African Jazz Dance not only has a rich history but also has a rich future. The influence of this dance style has reached so many lives and continues to do so since its first makings and traditions in Africa. The fun and unique dance style brings many people together. Not only has it brought the people of Africa together, but the dance style has reached dance studios in places even as small as Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Works Cited

“African Dance.” African Dance – New World Encyclopedia, <>.

“Circle in African Dance.” The Circle Way, The Circle Way, 3 July 2019,

“Dance Resources: Dance Styles and History.” Library Guides,

McFarland, Maerwydd. “History of African Dance.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp,

 “The History Of African Dance.” Dance,

Photo by Chermiti Mohamed on Unsplash