South African Dance Verses Irish Dance

Categories: Dance

Traditional South African dance, otherwise, known as Zulu dance, has been danced since the 1670s South Africa. It is said that “South Africans have rhythm in their blood” (“Different Types of South African Dances”) because the natives have danced for so long. As explained in the article “Zulu”, the 18th-century ethnic groups in South Africa changed as they formed chiefdoms. Chiefdoms are groups that are led by chiefs and the inhabitants pass down their role in society from generation to generation.

The chiefdoms changed again in the 19th century by Warrior-King Shaka. Shaka conquered all the chiefdoms, combining and putting them under one rule. Shaka ruled for 12 years before he was assassinated by his brothers. By the late 1900s, the kingdom was split up by the arrival of the British. Many poems, dances, and other ways of storytelling have been created to show the Zulu culture and history. Traditional Irish Dance has been present for centuries, going back to the twelfth century.

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The people who inhabited the island were the Celts and the Druids. They shared many similar rituals, with singing, music, and dancing around sacred trees. It wasn’t just religious rituals, the people also danced and celebrated marriages and other special occasions. Then in the 18th century, Norway started exploring, and they settled in Ireland. As they brought their people, they also brought their culture and dancing. The circles that the Celts and druids used became lines, more bagpipes and harps were being played as people danced. It was also in the Eighteenth Century that the dancing became more strict, becoming the style of dance that we see today (“Everything You Need to Know about Irish Dance”).

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There are five types of Zulu dance: Ingoma Isizingili, Ingoma Ushameni ( otherwise known as Isishameni), Indlamu, Isicathamiya, and Imvunlo.

Each of the five dances is for different occasions and has a unique style. Ingoma Izizingili and Ingoma Ushameni are very similar. Said to Denise Brandenburg, Ingoma Isizingili has both men and women in the dance while Ushameni has only men dancing as women are clapping along or chanting. What the two dances have in common is that there are no instruments or drums. It is all singing, chanting, and clapping. Both Ingoma styles are known for their fasted paced dance moves and high kicks. Before, the dances wdancingere used as a pre-hunt and pre-battle ceremony, but as time passed both Ushameni and Isizingili are transition dances for special occasions like weddings, coming of age parties, and other ceremonies. The Indlamu dance is the most recognizable in Zulu culture, as it is the most popular. Imvunulo involves instruments like drums. Unlike Ingoma, Indlamu has more careful or precise steps and dance moves. In Zulu culture, the women stay in the tribe while the men are the ones who hunt and gather for food. For more culture in dance, the Indlamu dance was created, with only men in the dance. As men are the hunters, in the dance they have spears and make ‘stabbing motions’ to portray fighting and show more muscular power (“Zulu”). Similar to Ingoma, Indulma can be performed at Weddings and other events. Isicathamiya dance is the last and like Indlamu, it only has men, but Isicathamiya can have men of all ages. Whereas the other dances can be performed in many formations, Isicathamiya is performed in either a line or an arc. The music doesn’t use chants or drums, as it is more of a balletic sound (“Zulu”). Accompanying the more sensual music, the performances are more serious, as they show more problems that are around the community. As there are dances, the performers are also singing, as they are an acapella group. While they sing, they have easy dance moves so they don’t hinder the singing. The performers can dance small step or high steps combinations (“Isicathamiya”).

For the last dance, Imvunulo, there is one leader and it could be of either gender. As said in the “Zulu” article, this dance is more of social dance, To show off where you stand in the social ranks of the tribes, and to also show off the attire during the party. Unlike South Africa’s Traditional dancing where there are five types, in Traditional Irish dancing, there are four: Sean Nos, Set Dancing, Ceili dancing, and Step Dancing. All of them vary for social, competition, or entertainment purposes. Then for any of those, it could be a group dance, pair, or a solo performance. For Sean Nos, it is known to be more of a solo dance. Treva Bedinghaus showed how dancers have rapid and low feet movements. As Sean Nos is danced in a solo setting, it can also be with a small group or a pair. If there is a group, then there is no physical contact with any of the dancers. What sets this dance style apart from the others is that there is never a set routine or dance pattern. Set dancing is a social and competitive style of dance.  In competition, Set Dancing works in pairs, going up to four pairs depending on the intent of the dance, but in a social setting like a celebration, there is no set number of how many people can dance. The performers dance with their arms either down at their sides motionless, they are with their partner and they are moving across the floor, or they have their hands on their partner and they are turning (clarebannerman).Just like Set dancing, Ceili Dancing is also a social dance. Yet, what differs from Set dancing from Ceili is that in a performance, Ceili dancing has eight pairs or 16 people. There are specific formations that ceili is in: lines towards each other, circles, one line, or multiple lines facing the same way (Bedinghaus). The last dance is Step Dancing. Step Dancing is what is associated with Irish dance because of the popularity of River Dancing. Unlike Set and Ceili dancing, Step dancing doesn’t include pairs. The performers don’t need other people because just like Sean Nos, there will be no physical contact between the performers.

What connects all of the dances into an Irish traditional dance is that the feet are turned out, the arms are stiff and have a little movement to none at all, the feet will always be pointed, the knees cross each other or are touching, and the performers are looking straight ahead, and they are on their toes in relieve almost all of the time (Gavigan). Clothes The Zulu culture has very specific clothes for the performers when they dance. For the Ingoma dance style, to accent the high kicks the dancers wear seed pods around their ankles. So as they kick, the seed pods will shake and the audience will hear their steps. The female performers that dance an Ingoma dance wear a wool skirts and go bare-chested. The male performers wear cow hides around their genitals and butt along with the seed pods around their ankles. For performers who dance in Indlamu, the men have to wear like Ingoma ankle rattles and cowhides. Yet, unlike Ingoma, the Indlamu dancers had to wear head rings, ceremonial belts, spears, and shields. They have the shield and spear to make the men performing seem more masculine and to include the mock fighting in the dance. For Imvunulo the attire is more involved, as it is a showing of age gender, and social status. The younger dancers don’t cover their thighs while older people do. Men wear cow hides and women who want to be pregnant or are already pregnant wear leather skirts and all women wear beaded aprons. The beaded aprons are the most important as they are given to the women on their wedding day and the color represents where they came from (“Zulu”). The performers who do Isicathamiya has to dress a lot differently. “The isicathamiya groups dressed in suits, with white gloves, sparkling white shirts, shiny black shoes, and red socks.

The leader dressed in opposing colors from the group” (Isicathamiya). So going from cow hides to suit the setting and purpose for the performance is completely different. For traditional Irish dancing, the dancers have on either soft or hard shoes. Either can be worn for all of the genres of Traditional Irish dance. The hard shoes are bulkier in the shoe box and heel region so that the sound of the shoes hitting the ground is heard. The costumes the females wear are dresses that have short skirts and long sleeves. The dresses are bright colors ranging from yellow to purple, though a lot of the costumes are green. The males wear black dress pants, a dress shirt, and a colored vest to go with their partner or the color scheme.ConclusionHow the two countries become similar even though their culture is so different through their dance. Both Irish and South Africa use the lower body as the main focus in the dances. With the rapid foot movement in the Irish and the step combination of the South African dance and how In the Ingoma style dance in South Africa the seed pods are used just the same as the hard shoes that the Irish dancers use. They attract attention to their feet with noise. It not only goes with the sound but the looks of the dances as well, Step dancing and Ingoma have high kicks in their dances to put more effect on the sight. Then as well, both dance styles use dance in similar fashions. Dances are used for weddings, social get-togethers, or competitions.

Works Cited:

  1. Design, Claddagh. “Everything You Need to Know about Irish Dancing.” Handcrafted Celtic Jewelry, Inspired by the Past,
  2. Gavigan, Ally. “Irish Dance Basic Technique: 10 Things To Remember Every Time You Dance.” Irish Dance Basic Technique: 10 Things To Remember Every Time You Dance - Antonio Pacelli, 12 Jan. 2016,
  3. “Different Types of South African Dances.” Culture x Tourism, 27 June 2016,  “Zulu Dance.” Eshowe,, Denise. “The History of Zulu Dance.” Synonym, 29 Sept. 2017,
  4. Bedinghaus, Treva. “Learn About Traditional Irish Dance - Social, Performance and More.”ThoughtCo, 27 Mar. 2017,
  5. “Irish Set Dancing.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Feb. 2008, “Zulu.” South African History Online, 13 Apr. 2016, Channel, Apollodor. “Fabulous Ingoma Zulu Dance.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Nov. 2017,
  6. "Isicathamiya’ on” Trivia Quizzes,
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
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South African Dance Verses Irish Dance. (2022, Aug 22). Retrieved from

South African Dance Verses Irish Dance essay
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