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Ote'a: group dance to a drum orchestra. Flamboyant, joyous and energetic, this is what most Americans associate with Tahitian dance. Originally a male-only war dance, but now female dancers perform their own version of Ote'a.
The men's steps are radically different from the women's. They use mainly their legs to perform.. a highly spectacular movement known as paoti: with knees bent and heels together but slightly raised, they alternately open and close their knees with a scissorlike movement.... The basic female movement is a swaying of the hips caused by intensie bending and straightening of the knees, with the feet kept level on the ground... The otea occasionally includes a solo performance, the group sitting of kneeling while a cingle performer or couple dances, each in turn.
Volcanoes, sharks, historical events or legends, all of which may be suggested by the use of props, are the underlying themes dictating choreography. Because it is so gruelling, an otea sequence lasts only a few minutes. —Becca Blond"
Aparima: Story telling dance, sometimes performed to a song with words and sometimes not.

Pa'o'a: a dance provided by one or two soloists to music provided by a male singer and rhythm provided by a seated circle of dancers who beat rhythm with their hands on their legs.

Hivinau performed in concentric circles of dancers moving in opposite directions.

Tamure: Tahitian dance performs with partners, which is a Western, not a Tahitian, concept. Like belly dance, it is a social dance which is sometimes modified and presented as entertainment.

'Ahuroa: A slow 'aparima performed by women in dresses.


Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia (Country Guide), Becca Blond, 2006.

Ruric-Amari and Samovar perform an Ote'a at UofL in 2012.

Lots of paoti action in this video!

Aparima video by Manutahi.

Hivinau by Nonosina in 2011.

Tamure from the Polynesian Cultural Center.


"The Protestant missionairies who introduced Christianity in 1797 found certain aspects of traditional culture incompatible with church ideology. Dance — connected in their eyes to pre-Christian practices, drunkenness, debauchery , and prostitution — was prohibited by law in 1845. Special attire disappeared as performances moved from public eye to hidden practice, and Christian assemblies took prominience over chiefly entertainment. — Jane Freeman Moulin
In her book Ori! M Uchiyama states:
"In 1956, Madeleine Mou'a...formed Tahiti's first professional dance group, Heiva. This company restored Tahitian dance to a position of respect in the eyes of Tahitians... She paid close attention to the quality of costuming, drumming and dance technique. She produced grand spectacles based on legendary themes. Her group Heiva was soon placed under the patronage of ... the daughters of the late Queen Pomare. This prompted young girls from respectable families to join dancing groups in record numbers.... Prior to this time, there was not a mutually agreed upon repertoire of the dance technique. The practice of holding the heels together, of formalizing the difference between the various hip isolations, emphasizing the regal and dignified carriage of the torso now associated with ori Tahiti, all began with Madeleine Mou'a.
"A change in the dance began in 1979, with the opening of the Conservatoire Artistique Territorial. A state sponsored school of Tahitian dance, the Conservatoire is based on the Western model of formal dance lessons. At the end of a multi-year curriculum, students are awarded diplomas equivalent to those given to graduates of European music conservatories. Here, dancers are trained in specific dance techniques which stress the student's virtuosity and creativity as a performer. A result of this new system was the codification of the movement vocabulary providing instructors a unified language for teaching dance in the classroom.
"Additionally, the Conservatoire encouraged innovation and creativity in ori Tahiti. As a result, the steps, posture and technical aspects of the dance have shifted to the point where those of us who learned the technique prior to the 1990's have had to nearly relearn how to perform and talk about Tahitian dance."

Dance Costumes of French Polynesia by Jane Freeman Moulin.

Mahealani Uchiyama is a noted dance artist, musician and teacher based in Berkeley, California.


"Costumes are a key component of Tahitian dance and the blamour surrounding it. A distinction is made between two types of costume, one for the otea and the other for the aparima. For the otea, the outfit covers the dancers's bodies from head to foot. dancers wear a crown of fresh flowers (frangipani,tiare or gardenia, and bougainvillea) or a large and elaborate headdress, as well as garlands of flowers and seashells. Women wear a biking top made of two halves of a coconut, polished and dyed black, and held together with a piece of string. Dancers of both sexes wear a more (skirt) made of paurau (a type of hisbicus) bark cut into very thin strips, sewn together and dyed red or yellow. Men's more hand down slightly below the knees and are attached to the waist; women's are knotted around the hips and hang down as far as the ankles. A decorative belt of flowers, mother-of-pearl, pieces of polished cocnut and seashells is worn over the [skirt]. —Becca Blond"

Tahitian dance costumes are designed with creativity and variety, as the video links, above, demonstrate. The basic skirt for both men and women, more', is made of shredded purau bark, over which a decorative belt with tassels is worn. A wrap-around cloth skirt may be worn instead. The female top may be cloth, barl, leaves or coconut shells; the males may wear a poncho. Costumes for competition or festival wear are often fearfully and wonderfully constructed and can cost thousands of dollars.



Tahitians think of dance and music as one: it is unlikely to find one without the other. In addition, there is no word for either "dancer" or musician; just words describing a person dancing or a person singing, indicating that music and dance are a part of everyday life.

Tahitian music is highly polyrhythmic. Melodic instruments are played with a strong rhythmic accent. A recently developed style of drumming, oro'oro (echo echo) is performed in an interlocking three or four part rhythm which has a powerful effect on dancers and audience.

Ruric-Amari teaches Tahitian dance at her studio in Louisville, KY.

Katy of Anaya Gypsy Dance in Cincinnati OH offers Tahitian dance workshops on occasion.

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