Information on Zulu Dance

by Sarah Freeman
Zulu dancers sometimes use shields to recreate battles.

Zulu dancers sometimes use shields to recreate battles.

Hemera Technologies/ Images

The Zulu people are an ethnic group who mainly live in and around the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa (ref3). The clan was founded in 1709 by Zulu kaNtombhela, and today boasts more than 11 million people who identify themselves as Zulu. Among the many traditions of the clan, dancing is one ritual that involves every member of the group. The music and dancing traditions have been appreciated around the world, including through the Ladysmith Black Mambazo group, which found international fame after a collaboration with Paul Simon on his album "Graceland."


For the Zulu people, dancing and singing have been a part of their lifestyle and culture for centuries. Along with entertainment, each dance has a purpose and meaning to share with the clan. Every aspect of the dance -- including the instruments, movements and attire -- symbolizes something, whether it's to inaugurate a new king, recognize a child's birth or celebrate when a war is won. The dances are performed by both men and women, as well as children, who are taught the traditions at an early age.


There are a variety of Zulu dances, each created to honor or acknowledge a specific event or happening. For example, every year the Zulu people celebrate the "Umkhosi woMhlanga" or Reed Dance Festival, in which they promote the purity of girls and young women who are virgins. Additionally, many Zulu people perform the "Indlamu" dance after a war. In this performance, the men lift one leg in the air -- sometimes as high as their heads -- before stomping it down with the beat of the drum. They also incorporate shields and weapons into the moves, which they stab at imaginary enemies to display their strength and muscles.


The Zulu people use a variety of instruments to accompany their dances. Drums are a common instrument used to keep the rhythm and typically are carved from wood and covered with stretched leather. Other instruments are worn by the dancers. During the "Ingoma" dance, which is performed by boys and girls, the children wear rattles created out of seedpods around their ankles. These accessories create sound with each kick and stomp. The Zulu people often use their own bodies as instruments, too, by clapping hands or chanting.


The Zulu people have created costumes that are to be worn during each dance tradition. For example, during the war dances, men wear a skin sash, head rings, belts and ankle rattles, and also carry shields and spears. Sometimes the attire a Zulu member wears during the dance symbolizes his place in society. During the "Imyunulo" dance, the dancers' dress is determined by their rank, age and gender. Adults should cover their thighs, while children shouldn't. Women in this dance must wear leather skirts with beaded aprons. The colors in the aprons often symbolize the dancer's ancestry and information about her life, such as if she's married.

Photo Credits

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