A Comparative Study Of Traditional And Contemporary Nigerian Dances

Project and Seminar Material for Theatre Arts

A Comparative Study Of Traditional And Contemporary Nigerian Dances


One of the greatest challenges facing today’s global age is its transformational and transitional nature where values and norms are under constant change. As such a developing nation like Nigeria is under high pressure of acculturation problem coming mostly from Western nations to which her citizenry absorb more quickly or succumb to. Consequently, contemporary Nigerian society has integrated some of these Western cultural life styles to themselves thus posing serious threat to the survival of some of her traditional values one of which is her folk music. Be that as it may, the practice of traditional folk music and dance is still being vibrantly practiced in contemporary society of Nigeria as indicated by the numerous examples of traditional folk music practitioners used in this study. This study sought to carry out a comparative evaluation of traditional and contemporary Nigerian dances.

Table Of Content

Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title
  • Declaration
  • Approval
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of Content

Chapter One


  • 1.1 Background to the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the problem
  • 1.3 Objectives of the Study
  • 1.4 Rationale of the Study
  • 1.5 Significance of the Study
  • 1.6 Methodology
  • 1.7 Scope of the Study
  • 1.8 Limitation of the Study

Chapter Two

Literature Review

  • 2.1 Functions Of Dance
  • 2.2 Form In Dance
  • 2.3 Dance Among The Yoruba
  • 2.4 Dance and Local Environment

Chapter Three

Folk Music And Dance As Mass Culture

  • 3.1 Folk Music and dance as Mass Culture in Contemporary Nigerian Society.
  • 3.2 Traditional Folk Music and dance as Mass Culture in Contemporary Nigerian Society.
  • 3.3 Historical Base of Folk Music and dance Practice as Mass Culture in Contemporary Nigerian Society
  • 3.4 Religious Functions of Folk Music and dance as Mass Culture in Contemporary Nigerian Society.

Chapter Four

Evaluation Of Traditional And Contemporary Nigerian Dances

  • 4.1 Evaluation

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion And Recommendation

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • 5.3 Recommendations
  • References

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Theatre arts is a broad platform, and all art forms have something to communicate. Art as a form of communication is dynamic because it is derived from culture and a particular cultural background. Dance is a form of art, hence, it is an index of culture. Zulu Sofola in Tragic Themes in Nigeria Ritual Drama notes that:

Culture is the totality of the individual in relation to all the forces acting upon him and his reaction to them. The forces would include the physical environment, supernatural forces and the social context. (16)

Therefore, culture is the way of life of a people within a geographical setting. Darah (2003), in Dance as an Agent of Social Mobilisation in Urhobo, posits that:

“Dance comments reflectively on systems of thoughts, sustaining them or undermining them through criticism of institutions, policies or personages, and that dance reflects and influences patterns of social organisation”(10).

In accordance with this, dance is said to be one of the vehicles through which culture expresses itself.

Dancing is at least as old as man. Early man discovered that dancing channelled his exuberance, gave him pleasure and expressed his feelings about the most important events of his life. Adah (1991), in Science and Values in Culture and Civilisation posits that:

“He believed that through dancing, he could communicate with the unseen spirit world in which he lived, primitive man danced to celebrate birth, healing of the sick, mourn death and pray for good, hunting or victory in battle.” (5)

Bakare (2004) in The Rudiments of Choreography asserts that “the fundamental reason why dance takes place is to make a statement, to communicate, put across a message, express a thought” (4). From this expression, we can deduce that dance communicates the cultural and environmental situation of a people or society. Bakare (2004) further says that “all arts no matter the nature have something to say” (3). This means that both traditional and contemporary dances have their distinctive features and social statement which is derived from their cultural situation. Again Bakare (2004) opines that “human beings from different cultures of the world dance to externalise their inner feelings through body language” (2).

The dancer being a tool of communication uses his body as a means of expression. He uses his body in expressing physical symbols. Every dance form has a specific body concept and these might be intertwined with the everyday physical culture or quite remote from it. Though the traditional and contemporary dances have the same elements and goals, it is still obvious that they have distinct forms which makes it easy for identification. This project therefore attempts a comparative study between traditional Nigerian dances and contemporary dances, expressing the distinctive and similar features of both forms as well as the motivations of both art forms.

1.2 Statement of the problem

Dance like other art forms is a functional part of human life. Dance is as important as other art forms. However, the subject matter is one that has not been given considerable attention compared to other artistic forms. Traditional dance style is one that is gradually fading away with the passage of time, and contemporary dance has not fully been analysed. This study intends to discuss the relationship between the two dance forms in order to enable the society know the uniqueness of traditional and contemporary Nigerian dances, in African Society and the world at large.

Since the coming of the missionaries, most African societies have abandoned their cultural practises, this study therefore will help to bring the lost culture of most African Societies, that traditional African dances can be used for more than just entertainment.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

This study endeavours to:

showcase cultural similitude as well as abstractions of traditional and contemporary Nigerian Dances.
review and analyse the various features of contemporary and traditional Nigerian dances through practical and artistic forms.
arrive at important hypothesis that will contribute to the field in general

1.4 Rationale of the Study

Though researches have been carried out on this subject, some loopholes still need to be filled. Lack of knowledge of traditional dance forms and their various significance have not fully been understood. This necessitated the choice for this study, exploring the Ikpiripki, Ogu and Atilogwu dance of the Igbos and the Yoruba Bata, which are both traditional dances. Also, the understanding of what contemporary dance entails and the influence of traditional dance forms on the contemporary dances.

1.5 Significance of the Study

The significance of the project is not far-fetched, it is hoped that apart from stimulating and exciting further researches on comparative study of traditional and contemporary Nigerian dances, it will also contribute to the growth of the general knowledge of Nigerian dance as an art, as well as enlightening various personnel that require knowledge from this field.

This research would also be significant to choreographers, dancers, theatre practitioners, cultural historians and the general public in the sense that it will contribute to their knowledge.

1.6 Methodology

The literary, historical and artistic methods are employed in the collection of data and reporting of findings. In using the literary method, investigations into different literature such as printed materials, Journals, Newspapers, books relating to the research topics are consulted. In using the historical method, facts would be collected from archival materials and printed sources that are related to the development, beginning and history of dance. In relation to the artistic method, Data would be obtained from the researcher’s observation on the practical performance and personal knowledge on the artistic presentation.

1.7 Scope of the Study

This project work is strictly aimed at examining the evolution of traditional and contemporary dances, and the similarities, differences and factors that affect both trends. This will be achieved through a practical illustration of the two dance forms.

1.8 Limitation of the Study

It will be out of place to state that one will not encounter problems during the course of this research work. Some of the major problems that limited this research work are:

  1. Lack of current books on dance
  2. Time frame to organise my practical was limited
  3. Finance was also another issue.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation


The study has been able to establish the continued practice of traditional folk music and dance by citing examples of performing groups in the country. This is an attestation of the continued survival and practice of the art in contemporary society of Nigeria. As a popular culture in Africa and in Nigeria in particular, traditional folk music and dance is used to accompany and express many life activities associated with human beings in Nigeria. Some examples of such activities includes, funeral, birth, initiation, coronation, festival, religious ritual, whether joyous or sad moments. Folk music and dance which belongs to the oral tradition is a vital aspect of cultural practice forming an arm of the oral tradition, heritage and values popular to most communities in Nigeria. Being a living art, its uses, roles and functions permeates almost all aspect of societal activities such as religion, entertainment, social, educational and other extra music and dance activities which truly shows that traditional folk music and dance is a viable arm of popular culture in Nigeria. That is folk music and dance clearly meet the criteria of popular culture as its practice is found to be functional, relevant, useful and people oriented and mass participated by everyone in the community that evolve it.

The fluidity of the genre of this music and dance has enabled it assume new roles and functions in contemporary society such that its performance has gained new audience in contemporary Nigeria. The contemporary society though besieged with all sorts of ideas, values, culture, some alien and provocative, the traditional folk music and dance practitioners in Nigeria used as case study in this study have seen reasons to adopt traditional folk music and dance as instrument per excellence to project the identity, unity, economic, tourism, cultural, moral ,and historical features of this country not only within the borders of this nation but to international audience as well.

The study also identify the adaptative power of traditional folk music and dance as popular culture to include the belief system of most traditional institutions that employ the use of folk music and dance in the observance of their regular festivals and rituals. The removal of certain stringent measures, which before now treated the performance of traditional folk music and dance in certain areas as taboo and sacrilege has now enable it to play new roles in contemporary society. These new roles according to the summary from respondents include boosting tourism, promoting cultural heritage in the contemporary society, fostering unity among various ethnic groups in Nigeria, creating leisure, projecting identity among ethnic groups in the country and for the Blackman. Other new roles include forging educational instructions on morals, ethics and good virtue, promoting bilateral relations among nations and promoting new frontiers in popular culture discourse at global level.

In the light of the findings of this study, it is obvious to state that folk music and dance practice as popular culture in Nigeria is not static, unchanging artefact that belong to the former way of life, rather it is a living art that is adding value to the numerous social, religious, economic and entertainment activities going on in the country hence it’s capacity to adapt to change and to take on new challenges in pre-colonial and post colonial contemporary society of Nigeria as evident in the activities of traditional folk music and dance practitioners cited in this work.


Folk music and dance as a mass culture in Nigeria comprised an important aspect of culture which relate to a complex and distinct expression of life experiences. Although many scholarly works on Africa traditional music and dance have continued to label folk music and dance as archaic and primitive because it does not apply itself to some western music and dancehall theoretical frame work, it has become evident from this study that this popular culture that is unique to Nigerians is itself a living art that is constantly responding to new and emerging socio-economic, educative and cultural challenges even in contemporary society like Nigeria as the study has revealed. The oral tradition to which folk music and dance belong is a matter of fact the strongest link binding together all types of music and dance which may be considered as belonging to the historical beginning of all music and dance. It is therefore important to reiterate the essence of this type of music and dance to all Africans and its dynamism in conforming to societal change and the implication of these changes to his total life patterns in contemporary society. This is because no phenomena void of utility survives in any society. The indication that this genre of music and dance is still present and practiced to new audience and in almost every aspect of contemporary society of Nigeria suggest the usefulness and the relevance of traditional folk music and dance as mass culture to contemporary society, and for this reason, it should be preserve for posterity by those who believed to be the owner of this genre of music and dance.


Traditional folk music and dance in Nigeria is the only true authentic music and danceal practice that was evolve and indigenous to our fore fathers and mothers. And it took years and generations to do that. As such it is seen and taken as the property of the community which they strive to preserve by any means available to them. The owners of the art strive for its survival because it is one art that forge for them the character of unity and identity in a global world characterized by diverse culture. In the light of this, the work recommends that first of all, all institutions, whether educational, commercial, scientific or military should form and have a standing social activity day celebration of traditional folk nature to encourage and keep alive the music and dance heritage of the black people for posterity. With this in mind, government should as a matter of policy revive cultural arts like music and dance, dance, storytelling, moonlight tales, proverbs in all primary and secondary schools in the country as a grass root effort that will ensure the speedy revival of the country’s cultural heritage.

Secondly, every state should be encouraged as a matter of policy to develop and initiate state cultural carnival so as to locate and keep alive the rich tradition of folk music and dance culture that abounds in the country.

Thirdly, government should deploy the agent of technology to package and re- package the cultural artifacts that abound in the country one of which is the traditional folk music and dance practice to the level of international status so as to attract the much needed revenue for the economic development of the country. Government and communities should be encouraged to relax intriguing constraints and taboos that make folk music and dance practice abominable outside its place of origin or beyond its traditional roles and concepts.

Finally, the Nigerian traditional folk music and dance practitioners should be encouraged by engaging them in social gathering and entertainment media just as they do to their pop stars counterparts. Folk music and dance practitioners should also be given attention on radio, Television, and other Satellite cable networks as they do to Western pop stars. This will ensure that different audience are protected and the works of these folk music and dance practitioners are preserved and projected to international audience and for posterity.

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