Yoruba Dance From West Africa Across the Atlantic


There are many similarities and differences to be observed when comparing Yoruba religion in West Africa and the Yoruba diaspora. Scores of ritual songs for the Orisha are similar in both Brazil and Cuba. While the drums and rhythms of Candomblé Ketu and Lukumi are different, many of our dances are quite similar.

When the Orisha dance, their movements are often connected to sacred stories that tell us their origins and give us life lessons. In analyzing the dances of Candomblé Ketu and Lukumi, Oshun, Ogun, Oya, Shango and Oshala have similar dances.  Candomblé tends to keep subtle movements while Lukumi dances are bigger and more theatrical.

Regardless of the difference in presentation, Oshun is often seen in both Candomblé and Lukumi dancing a two-step, holding her skirt or spreading her arms out wide in a show of opulence. Ogun’s dance imitates a cutting motion, a reference to his powerful machete. Oya dances quickly with her arms waving in the air, representing her control of the wind and connection to the ancestors. Shango’s signature move is reaching his arms up and stretching them out, symbolizing a throwing motion. Oshala’s dance is often slow paced and gets low to the ground; he dances bent over while taking steps forward and lifting his hands as though he’s tossing something over his shoulders.

These choreographed dances aren’t as visible in Nigeria. In addition, these are dances that are reserved for the Orisha. When people dance in honor of the Orisha, there are differentiated moves to distinguish between how people dance in praise and how the Orisha themselves dance.

The differences that exist developed over time due to various influences. Although Candomblé Ketu is primarily a Yoruba derived religion, there are influences from Fon and Bantu ethnic groups in addition to Indigenous Brazilian, Catholic and other groups.  Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect that the religion in Brazil should be identical to what is practiced today in Nigeria, Benin, Cuba or elsewhere in the Yoruba diaspora.