One of the most universal methods of expressing one’s emotions is dance. Mourning is also a universal feeling, and many cultures worldwide express grief and celebrate the lives of loved ones through funeral dances. These dances exemplify the grief of losing a loved one and celebrating their life while focusing on unity and paying tribute to the deceased.

Exploring different cultures and their dances is a great way to broaden your mindset as a dancer. This blog explores the beautiful funeral dance traditions found in seven different cultures.

1. Native American

Native American tribes have their own unique funeral dance traditions. In Plains tribes, the “Ghost Dance” was performed to reunite the living with the spirits of the deceased while promoting peace and well-being. Grieving participants would dance for hours, dressed in elaborate costumes as they moved in harmony.

2. Latin American

In Mexico, the Danza de los Viejitos, or “Dance of the Old Men,” is a traditional performance that often occurs during funerals. This dance requires performers to wear traditional campesino clothing and masks. Each dancer takes exaggerated, stumbling steps to represent the cycle of life and the connection between all generations.

3. European

Certain European cultures, such as the Irish, have a rich history of funeral dances. At a traditional Irish wake, people would dance to lively music around the deceased to celebrate their life. These dances expressed the joy the deceased had brought to the community, serving as a way to honor and remember them.

4. African

African cultures have their own language when it comes to dance. In West Africa, funeral dances might involve complex drumming rhythms and precise, energetic steps. These dances allow mourners to celebrate the deceased’s life and give them “light feet” to travel with as they begin their journey to the afterlife. Many African cultures also wear colorful costumes and elaborate headdresses while performing funeral dances.

5. Asian

In Bali, Indonesia, the ngaben funeral ceremony involves a cremation dance called beleganjur. A group of musicians and dancers perform this dance wearing traditional Balinese attire, guiding the deceased’s spirit to its final resting place. Beleganjur is both a mourning ritual and a celebration of the deceased’s life.

6. Middle Eastern

The Alevi people of Turkey perform a sacred ritual dance called semah during ceremonies performed in honor of deceased loved ones. This dance symbolizes the connection between the earthly and heavenly worlds and spiritually cleanses the mourners. Semah consists of circular hand and arm movements representing the rise and fall of the soul’s journey.

7. Island Nations

In Pacific islands such as Fiji and Tonga, a traditional funeral dance called meke combines dance and storytelling to commemorate the deceased’s life. The meke involves graceful, rhythmic movements to reenact the deceased’s achievements and personal history.

Each culture has its own approach to grief and mourning, and many cultures have found a more universal way to express these emotions through movement. Funeral dancesin every culture help communities unite, celebrate the deceased’s life, and find solace in shared mourning.

Jul 25, 2023

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