Why we dance the way we do

From observation, almost every event in Uganda is celebrated with dance. Milton Wabyona, a Lecturer of Ethnic Music and Dance Performance at Makerere University says dance in Uganda has always been an expression of feelings.
“In Uganda, we dance for courtship, at birth, to celebrate puberty, when getting ready for marriage, war, as well as when sad or happy,” he says.
However, little history has been computed about the dances in Uganda were named such. In fact, the years in which they were formed is not known.


Bakisimba is a royal dance for royal entertainment and the official entertainment of the Kabaka (King) among the Buganda. It is believed to have originated in the palace of the King of Buganda.
Robert Musiitwa the Public Relations officer of Uganda National Cultural Centre says it hails from a story where subjects gave the Kabaka to taste a drink that was being made from a certain type of matooke. After taking, the king started praising the people who had made the beer, saying abaakisiimba, which means “those who planted the bananas”, and bebaakiwoomya, “they made it delicious.” While saying those words, the audience noticed that the Kabaka was overly excited but it is taboo to say that the king is drunk.
The musicians started playing drums mimicked the king’s words and a group of was selected to go in the compound walk gracely while imitating the king’s movements. This eventually became a dance. There are three major movements in this dance Baakisiimba, Nankasa, and Muwogola.


This is another folk dance of the Baganda that also developed in the palace of the king. Wabyona narrates its genesis from a time the Kabaka passed on without leaving any heir. Fortunately, he left behind many pregnant wives so the medicine men searched for one who was expecting and a one Namulondo was identified and put her on the throne. But is a taboo for the Baganda kingdom to be ruled by a woman so this was understood that it was not her who was ruling but rather her unborn son. Kings in Buganda are not supposed to cry as this would bring bad luck to the kingdom. When he was born, the Kingdom tasked the Butiiko clan to find a way of keeping the King entertained hence the Amaggunju dance.


This is an Acholi royal dance performed in the place of the paramount chief. It is mainly danced while installing the King. Wabyona says the dance portrays the character of the people as while performing, every man holds a small drum. “The drum symbolises power and authority and this only carried by men because the power is vested in the men,”he explains.
Wabyona further says that the costumes worn during this dance are warlike with head gears and beads and the dance is highly poly-rthymic which means that more than three rthymes are played at the same time a reflection of the Acholi language.

Runyege and Entongoro

This is a courtship dance for the Bunyoro and Batooro Kingdoms performed by the youth when it is time for them to choose partners for marriage. The dance was named after the rattles (binyegeentongoro) that are tied on boys’ legs to produce sounds and rhythms. The sound produced by rattles is more exciting as it is well syncopated as the main beat is displaced but everything blends with the song and drum rhythms.
It is believed that the better you are at dancing, the better partner you make hence taking the partner is based on one’s ability to compete in the dance.
Wabyona says it started when more than 10 men wanted to marry the same beautiful and good-looking girl. A ceremony was organised and all the male candidates came and danced their best. The girl had to choose the best dancer.
This dance is similar to the larakaraka dance of Acholi people and the Akembe of the Teso region. The only difference is that larakaraka emphasises strength as they will not give their girls to weak men.
Also, the music for Akembe dance is played more softly on melodic instruments such as the thumb piano (akogo sansa) and the flute.

This is a traditional dance of the Bakiga. It’s an expression of happiness and power because the Bakiga don’t believe in weaklings. “the Bakiga are competitive people so in the dance everyone seems to be competing to be the strongest. They dance with a lot of energy and the last man standing is the strongest of all,” says Wabyona. He adds that the dance was derived from the Bakiga’s lifestyle because they believe that the stronger you are, the better person you are in society. Also, he says traditionally, the people also used to stamp the ground until they found signs of water. Therefore, this dance represents their jumping and stamping.

Tamenaibuga, Irongo, Nalufuka
Musiitwa says it’s a dance from the Busoga region in Eastern Uganda which is performed as a sign of friendship and unity. He explains that it originated from a story of two men who were good friends that they shared everything in their life. One day, they went out to drink beer, which was traditionally served in a gourd. After taking too much, they began to argue, and this developed into a fight and hence breaking the gourd from which they were drinking. “The people around the men recognized that a quarrel between these men would break up their friendship and affect the unity of the community so they developed a dance to unite the people,” he says.

Gaze is a traditional dance of the Lugbara people from the region of the West Nile in the north. This dance reflects the transition of the dance movements into those of their neigbours in the Congo style.

Adungu Dance
This is a traditional dance of the Alur people in the Otwenge song which literally means the elbow. It was named after the adungu (bowharp) instrument is played in this dance. The Bowharp dance is for the talented young boys and girls of their community and it emphasizes the importance of the elbow. While performing it, the dancer’s body uses the motifs and movements of the elbow.

This dance comes from the Ankole region. Wabyona says it originated from the Banyankole’s admiration for their cattle. “The Banyankole loved and imitated the cows in their movements in this dance. They dance as if creating four limbs of the cow, raising the arms symbolises the long horns and the flute that is played during the dance is the same that is used to herd cattle,” he explains.

How dance has evolved
Originally, dance was a form of communication and each dance style symbolised something. Phillip Luswata a renowned actor and lecturer at Makerere University says, “dance was used to demonstrate hunting, traditions and footwork was greatly observed. Even when it aanced to dancing to tape recordings you could not afford to dance off beat lest you would be laughed at,” he recalls.
Beaming as he explains how they danced in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s he can’t hide the excitement of how they used to spend time practicing for a dance in day time dance they used to have during holidays. “We used to pay Shs2000 but we would dance, sweat and leave the dance floor when we were very tired. We used to dance in groups, it didn’t matter whether you knew someone, what united us was the ability to dance and dancing alone was selfish,” he says.
He adds that dancing had meaning and was more physical than today. Frowning as he talks about today’s dance, he can’t hide his disappointment about the way dance is done today. He says nowadays dance is distorted, footwork is not observed and it’s more about entertainment than authenticity.
He says this cuts across to the traditional dances whereby the traditional dances are losing their originality.
Musiitwa who agrees with Luswata says there is a lot of intermarrying of traditional dances with western dances to match the current trends. “Even majority cultural groups don’t perform the original cultural groups. You can find a group performing amaggunju with beads on their head,” he says.
Whereas the dances may be good to look at, he says the original dances have not been documented so the future generation may not know how the dances used to be. He also says that originality has been lost.
Acknowledging that there are some emerging cultural groups that hardly know what to do Stephen Rwangyenzi, the founder and executive director of Ndere troupe says they as Ndere troup have not created any new things but rather organised the styles and created an order in which they are performed.
“I have not seen anybody perform Bwola with orunyege or beads on the head. What people mistake for tradition is disorganisation. In the old traditions, people used to perform for themselves in their own space with no audience or space but nowadays there is an audience watching you in front which can’t turn so you have to perform in a way that they will see everything,” he says.
He further explains that unlike in the past, the current audience may not even know the words in the songs of the dance so the dance has to entice and communicate the message hence the need for an organised performance.
However, having been in the dance industry since 1984, he says there are areas where they have made deliberate changes and simple additions to attract the audience to the dance. “The carrying of pots in the Larakalaka dance and telling of stories around the dances was my addition to make the dances attractive. But I endeavour to perform the first part authentically and then make the additions later.
He maintains that they have not added any extra beats or body movements in any dance.


SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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