Forum: Folk / Polynesian Dance

I need to know what Polynesian dance is about, and the names of the costumes that men and women wear
By passion4danceXOX
On Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:34 PM
Edited by passion4danceXOX (206566) on 2009-08-09 22:34:38
Edited by passion4danceXOX (206566) on 2009-08-09 22:36:25

Okay, well, I'm trying to write a book and one of the characters in my book is supposed to be a male Polynesian dancer.
I want to be well educated on Polynesian dancing in general so that I can write about it correctly and really know what I'm talkin' about!
I'm curious about what the difference between Polynesian, Tahitian, Hawaiian dancing is? I'm totally European and know nothing about the subject.

Also, I was wondering if someone could tell me what both men and women wear to dance polynesian (especially guys).

If someone could just direct me to a site with this info, or if you're willing to write it all out, that would be great! Thank you so much.

3 Replies to I need to know what Polynesian dance is about, and the names of the costumes that men and women wear

re: I need to know what Polynesian dance is about, and the names of the costumes that men and women
By hawaiigirl99
On Mon Aug 10, 2009 12:39 AM
Hey passion4danceXOX...Ok, this is an example of tahitian dancing clothing: . . . -women's . . . -more flare women's . . . -men's . . . -men and women's

Now hula: . . . -women's

Not sure bout traditional men's hula clothing :S

Ok, so Tehitian, hula, polynesian. Both Hula and Tehitian are types of polynesian dancing. Hula was traditionally danced in Hawai'i. Tahitian was from Tahiti. In Polynesian dancing, the dancer should be smiling, knees bent, with smooth transitions. Hula is used to act out the meaning of the song, exentuated by hip movements. Tahitian is much the same. In tehitian there are less hand movements, faster hip movements and is done to drum beats.The men move their knees in and out in a motion that can be seen in the videos above. In tahitian dancing women wear skirts called pareu(kinda like a scarf tied around the waist), often times hedresses, and sleeveless tops. In hula they wear the pareu but their midrift is usually not showing. There is a thread on here about the different polynesian dances.

Common misconceptions-

>Many people seem to think that grass skirts are what are traditonal to polynesian dancing.

>The swaying of the hips is not random, and there are certain steps.

Gives the general defenition of polynesian dancing: . . .

Gives a list of hula steps: . . .

Tahitian steps:
Afata - box (hips hit in the shape of a box)

Fa'arapu - stir hips fast circles ( hips move around in fast circles)

Fa'arori - varu fa'arapu (you do a fa'arapu in the shape of figure eight)

Fa'amenemene - ami fa'arapu (you do a big ami and a fa'arapu @ the same time)

Ope - pics to the left & right ( you put one leg out and push and then the same to the other side)

Toma - double bump (twice to one side,then the other)

Ruru - freeze ( kinda a shimmy)

Nu'utere Ne'e - duck walk (hard to explain)

Te'i - on toes

Varu - figure eight (parallel to floor)

iraro - level changes

Tamau - sway right, sway left ( bump )

fa'atere- is when one foot on the ball, and the other is flat, and you bump to the side.

tamau- is when your hips hit from side to side

Sorry if that wasn't much help. All i could think of! :) And i don't know much about the men's dancing, being a girl dancer :D

Good luck with your book!!! Hopefully someone can post a more helpful comment than mine!

Aloha!!! :)
re: I need to know what Polynesian dance is about, and the names of the costumes that men and women
By Tahiti_E_Imua
On Mon Aug 10, 2009 10:46 AM
Hi there Passion... I'm sure you've got a general idea about the differences in Polynesian dance from the youtube videos that Hawaiigirl posted. I just wanted to add in a few things that might help you distinguish the differences in various polynesian groups, and help you with your story.

The Polynesian islands are comprised of several island groups, including Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Niue and Fiji. There are a few other smaller island groups I omitted here, but these are the main ones. Each of these island groups shares similarities in languages, traditions, culture & religion - but of course, each is unique to itself as well. Focusing on primarily the DANCE aspect of each island, I can't say I know a whole lot about every island and what they wear, do, etc. when dancing...But let me tell you about four (4) of them that I AM familiar with:

HAWAII: There are two different types of Hawaiian hula (dance): there is hula kahiko (ancient/traditional style) and hula auana (modern style). They are very distinct styles:

- Kahiko-style is typically danced to the sound of chanting and the beating of a drum (called an ipu or pahu). Most chants talk about a specific god or diety in ancient Hawaiian religion, and the hula (dance) is done to worship that diety. Male dancers wear a malo (loincloth-type) and women wear a pa'u (skirt & top). Women also sometimes wear a ti leaf skirt over their pa'u skirt. Hands and wrists are often adorned with kupe'e (fern or ti leaf garlands) and the head wears a haku (head) lei.

- Auana-style came about after the arrival of Europeans to the islands. They introduced instruments such as the ukulele and the guitar to the Hawaiians, as well as western melodies. Hawaiians began composing songs, using these instruments - and a new form of hula emerged. In hula auana, there are often times many string instruments, like the ukulele, guitar, base guitar, etc - and singing, instead of chanting. Dancers may wear a pa'u and malo, but many times, women will wear holoku (long dresses) or skirts and blouses, with men wearing shorts or even slacks and a dress shirt. Both wear floral leis or nut leis, and you will notice that while kahiko is a more serious, non-smiling form of hula, auana is all about fun, with big smiles and motions. Auana songs are about all sorts of things.

You can find out more about hula by googling "Merrie Monarch" (the biggest hula competition) or going onto '' for info about different chants and/or hawaiian songs.

SAMOA: There are basically five (5) main dances for this island:

- The 'sasa' is a dance for both men and women. It is done strictly to drum beats, usually played on a pake, or in more modern times, played on a masi (cracker) tin can. Men and women sit down, cross-legged, in straight lines. They then use hand, arm and head movements to tell and/or act out a story in unison. It is very high-energy and fast-paced.

- The 'ma'ulu'ulu' is another dance for both men and women. This one is done to music, singing with instrument accompaniment by the ukulele and guitar, etc. The hand and feet movements go along with the words of the song that is being sung.

- The 'fakaupati' is a dance for men only. It's called a 'slap' dance because the men are constantly slapping their own bodies or others. They stand in lines and use the 'slapping' sound and various arm and feet movements to act out their story. There is no music or drumming - the slapping provides the beat.

- The 'tauoluga' is a dance performed by either the taupou (daughter of the chief) or the manaia (son of the chief) - most of the time, it's a taupou. She dances solo, wearing a large headpiece of mirrors, feathers, etc (called a 'kuiga') or a feather piece (called a 'sei'). Sometimes she will carry a knife as well, sometimes not. While dancing solo, she is surrounded by other men and women who dance around her in support.

- The 'siva afi' is the fire knife dance, and probably the most exciting and well-known of the Samoan dances. A knife is soaked in kerosine and lit at one or both ends. The dancer then spins the knife, tossing it up in the air and twirling it around his body, kind of like a band leader does with a baton. Some dancers use only one knife, most use two - some knives are lit only at one end, many are lit at both ends.

- The costumes that the dancers wear is the same in almost all dances. Women almost always wear a puletasi (long skirt & top) or a tapa or siapo type dress (knee length, etc). The men wear a short lavalava, just above their knee. Both men and women may wear an 'ula' (necklace) made from boars teeth or nuts or shells.

You can find more about Samoan dancing by going to YouTube and searing under any of the Samoan words I listed above. Many things are difficult to understand just by a written explanation alone - it will help to see the dances online as well.

NEW ZEALAND (aka AOTEAROA): New Zealand is unique to many other Polynesian islands for two reasons; they experience all four seasons (including winter, sometimes with snow) and they are the only Polynesian island that does not use drums. Traditional Maori dancing is referred to as 'kapa haka' - and there are MANY aspects of kapa haka, but let me focus on just a couple things:

- The 'moteatea' is a traditional chant, performed by a group in unison. Eyes and hands, the whole body, really, motions while chanting to emphasize a certain point. Both men and women may 'pukana' (pop open their eyes) and 'wiri' (shake their hands). Some moteatea tell stories from ancient times, others are about geneaology, etc. There is no musical accompaniment.

- The 'poi' is done by women, and there are both long poi and short poi. The poi itself is a 'ball' attached to the end of either a long or short string/ rope. Long poi are swung through the air to create patterns and tell a story. Women may use 2 or even 4 long poi at once. Short poi are used to tell a story as well, but instead of swinging them through the air, women swing them but primarily use them to hit and create a 'beat'. Many poi are used to mimic the sound of rainfall, the flight of a bird, etc....things in nature. Sometimes there is no musical accompaniment, but most times, there is, with the guitar and singing.

- The 'waiata ringa' is an action-song, done by both men and women. Dancers sing and move their arms and legs according to the words of the song. Both men and women will 'takahia' (tap their foot) to the beat of the song, and wiri their hands. The guitar is played as accompaniment.

- The 'haka' is probably the best-known dance, done most times by all men, but in more recent times, women may join in as well. It is very expressive and powerful - it involves the whole body. The body acts out the words of the haka. There is no music or singing, just chanting, often lead by a single male.

- Kapa haka female performers traiditionally wear a 'pare', or woven bodice, and a 'tipare' or woven headband. The patterns on both are specific to the tribes they come from. Over the pare is a knee length 'piupiu' or flax skirt. The men wear a piupiu as well. Sometimes the leaders of the group will wear a korowai, or cloak, and both men and women may wear feathers in their hair. Sometimes men will wear a full-face 'moko' or tatoo, covering their face and often other body parts. Traditionally, women will only have a moko on their chin or sometimes on their forehead, above the nose and eyebrows. But in more modern times, kapa haka costumes have evolved as well, and there are many, many other things worn too.

For better information on this, go to which will give you full details about costumes, weapons (taiaha, patu, etc) and instruments (purerehua, putatara) - as both weapons and instuments are a part of kapa haka too. YouTube will also have videos - try searching 'Te Matatini' - that's the name of the national kapa haka competition held in New Zealand.

TAHITI: Tahitian dance is probably the 'stereotypical' polynesian dance, something everyone all over the world recognizes, but doesn't necessarily understand as being sepcific to Tahitian. Most people commonly mistake Tahitian 'ori' for Hawaiian 'hula'. But here are things to know:

- The 'ori' is the fast, hip-shaking dance. Women traditionally wore a 'more' or grass skirt, as well as men. Today, many women wear a 'pareau' or cloth-wrap, while men wear something similar, either as a 'malo' or 'tihere.' Both can wear headpieces made of shells, flowers, or feathers. Women move their hips and the men primarily 'paoti' - popping their knees out, etc (HawaiiGirl gave a GREAT rundown of different motions, as well as wear to look to see dancing online). Traditional ori is accompanied by drums (the pahu, pahu tupai, fatete, toere, etc) and sometimes nose flute, etc. A full-blown 'ote'a' or group performance must have certain elements in it, such as a hivinau or paoa, but that's getting very technical....

- The 'ahuroa' or 'ahupurotu' looks similar to a slower hula auana, with women-only dancing in floor-length dresses. They dance to music - singing with guitar and ukulele accompaniment.

- The 'aparima' is a little faster than an ahuroa, and involves both men and women. They typically wear the same things as they would wear for an 'ori' or 'otea' performance. Songs are sung, with musical accompaniment, and the dancers act them out with their bodies.

HawaiiGirl really covered Tahitian dance, so follow her links for more info.

ANYWAY.....I know this is long, but hope this helps you....
re: I need to know what Polynesian dance is about, and the names of the costumes that men and women
By passion4danceXOX
On Mon Aug 10, 2009 07:44 PM
WOW thank you so much to both of you for the great information!! It's actually very fascinating and I hope my book (if i ever finish it, and if it's decent) can represent this type of dance in a good way.

I can't wait to watch all the videos and to study the websites you gave links to!

Again, thanks! I really, truly appreciate it! I couldn't find info ANYWHERE!!


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