By AMBROSE EKHOSUEHI (11-07-2016)
BENIN dance culture came with the creation of the world but some evolved with creative styles and have reflected the social and traditional culture of the people to suit their purpose.
Dances are usually engaged during celebrations and festivals. The most popular are Ugho, Esakpaide, Izagbede, Ekokoma, Alubogie and kareta. There are also dances of physicians, priests and deities.
Benin dance culture provides entertainments and enjoyments, particularly for imaginary communication among the people and the spirits that attracts visitors seen and unseen.
An early account of Benin dance culture was given by an envoy, who visited Benin at the beginning of the nineteenth century. According to him “There are in Benin, a number of itinerant dancing.”
“ Women who were sent to amuse visitors and whose performance before the house constantly attracted crowd of people of both sexes, males and females, conducted themselves with great decorum”.
“The ladies danced in Fandango style, perhaps not quite so modestly as fashionable belles, although more in character, by holding in their hands excellent substitutes for castanets, with which they kept time admirably.”
“These consisted of small hollow gourds, over which are spread nets having small pease strung on the meshes. Hole at the top received the finger of the right hand with which the gourds were shaken and occasionally struck against the palms of their left hands; beating responses to the tunes sung by the dancers”.
Ugho is danced in elegance style. It is the dance that most typifies the temperament and the elegance of Benin women they demonstrate their elegance and artistry.
In the dance, the hands and feet are moved in gland style, in cadence with the rhythm of the music. Arms and legs contribute to the gesture.
Ugho is mostly danced by the women while the men play the drums. The audience would be moved by the songs at its pitch temple. The male soloist raised the song while other members of the troupe and of the audience join in the refrain, as the women play the maracas-Ukoise, to support the drums.
Ugho dance is said to have been invented in the fifteenth century. Decent men and women know how to dance it.
The ensemble instruments consist of two braced, single membrane cylindrical drums known as Ema ugho, gourd rattles (Ukoise) and clapperless bells (egogo).
It is said that the number of dances was put at two hundred and one which has two hundred and one steps. There is the adage that none can imitate my steps at dance except the ones that had no ugho style. (Omwan i gue owe mwe ya ze vbe iku, sokpan iku mwe nel mwe ugho).
Benin dance culture has certain characteristics. The wood was chosen for its sonority and durability. Drum wood is believed to be lamenting the loss of her lover still standing in the forest, with the beautiful clear tones of the instruments of the rites to enlist the co-operation of the sound of wood in the music and the spirit world.
Drums, play at moonlight or at past midnight are sacred to the echoes of the night and are taken to be the voices of the monsters of the woods.
Some societies feel that there is mystic connection between the wood and the music, hence ceremonial drums undergo certain rites and are sprinkled at initial ceremony.
Elsewhere, the gourd rattles has potent power in ceremonies and in festivals. The xylophones, orchestra and dance band are faint echoes of remote past, when the sonorities of music stirred human beings into awe.
Benin traditional music is more integrated in culture than the instrumental art musicians.
This can be explained by the fact that traditional music serves particular purpose than providing pure entertainment or dances for enjoyment.
Music performs in connection with various deities provide particular rhythms for communication between the people and the spirit world.
Drums as function of communication are used to sending of messages and render magical welfare and understanding.
Generally Benin dance culture expresses confidence and pay homage in songs, dances, styles and gestures.
Dance culture forms basic stylistic competitive analysis which gives awareness to language information of the cultural heritage, peregal in similarity and differences in musical styles and dances of other cultures.
Benin dances are numerous but few are common while some are diminishing though much of adapted foreign contact.
Eguonuri dance of Benin culture compete favourably with modern ensemble. It is danced by young unmarried damsels, girls or boys who vigorously shake their waists and move several steps elegantly.
Men who watched the dance were sometimes charmed to choose wife from among the dancers.
Indeed, the most professional groups specializ in one or two of the numerous Benin dance culture.