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Indigenous Dances of Brazil

Indians dance to celebrate acts, deeds and facts regarding life and customs.

Indigenous Dances of Brazil

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 05/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Dance,the powerful universal language, has been an important means of expression since ancient times, as has music. The Hebrews and Egyptians had their sacred dances. For the Greeks and Romans it was inspired by a more profane spirit.

Born and raised in close contact with nature – in the midst of lush forests, bubbling brooks andrich and diverse fauna and flora – Brazilian Indians are impregnated by these mysteries in which mysticism hovers. In their rituals and beliefs, dance and music have a role and a major influence on their social life.

Indians dance to celebrate acts, deeds and facts regarding life and customs. They dance while preparing for war; when they return from it;celebrating a‘cacique’ (chief), crops, ripening of fruits, a good haul of fish, to mark the puberty of adolescents or honour the dead in funeral rituals; to keep away diseases, epidemics and other scourges.

Indian dances can be performed by a single individual or group and, with rare exceptions in the upper Xingu, are not performed in pairs. Women do not participate in sacred dances, performed by shamans or groups of men. Magical symbols, totems, amulets, images, various musical instruments and warriors are also used in religious dances, depending on the purpose of the ceremony.

In some dances, many people wear masks, called dominoes, which cover the entire body and serve as their disguise. The language of the moving body, its organizsation and choreographic aesthetic, in addition to singing, occupy a fundamental place in the performance of the indigenous ritual.
Shamanic ritual dances –centred on the figure of the shaman, a leader who has the role of intermediary between profane reality and the supernatural dimension, in their mystic trances and magical and curative powers attributed to it – are held in various Amazonian tribes.

Among the best known rituals and dances of the Brazilian Indians are the toréand the kuarup.

The torédance varies depending on the rhythms and tunes of each people. The indigenous maracá–a rattle made from a dry hollowed gourdin which stones or seeds are placed – sets the tone of steps, and Indians generally dance itoutdoors and in circles. The ritual of toré is considered the ultimate symbol of strength and unity among the Indians of the Brazilian Northeast. It is part of the culture of the Kariri-xocó, Xukuru-kariri, Pankararú, Tuxá(Indians of Pernambuco),Pankararé, Geripancó, Kantaruré,Kiriri, Pataxó, Tupinambá, Tumbalalá, Pataxó Hã-hã-hãeandWassu Cocalindigenous peoples,among others.

The kuarup dance (named after a sacred tree) – a ritual of reverence for the dead –is typical of the indigenous peoples of the Upper Xingu, Mato Grosso. Always started on Saturday morning, the Indians dance and sing in front of kuaruptrunks, placed on the site where the honoured dead were buried.

There are many dances performed by the Indians of Brazil, among which may be highlighted:
Acyigua, a mystical dance to redeem the soul of a murdered Indian. Characteristic of the Guarani Indians, it is performed by the shaman with the help of the tribe’s best hunter-warrior.

Atiaruis performed to ward off evil spirits and call good ones. Men and women participate in it. The dance begins at dusk. Two Indian men with feather headdresses, rattles on the ankles and carrying ayapurutuflute in one hand, which is overfive feet in length, dance with a hand supported on the shoulder of their companion, running fast march steps to the right and to the left, marked by the sound of the rattle. Two other Indians, also playing the yapurutu,sit next to the ‘maloca’ (hut), while the first two, after dancing for a long time, come inside. They go out, each one accompanied by an Indian woman, who puts a hand on the shoulder of their partner and tries to follow in their footsteps. The dancers do the same thing in each one of the huts, and the dance continues increasing until it stops suddenly.

Buzoa, a tradition of the Pankararú people from the Tacaratu municipality, Pernambuco, was rescued by the village youth through the stories of older members. The steps are different from toré, and members do not dance in a circle. They use the harmonica and the tail of the armadillo as musical instruments, achieving a vibrant result.

‘Dança da onça’ (Puma Dance), performed by the Bororo Indians in Mato Grosso, where the dancer, who represents the soul of the puma which he killed with his own hands, should not to be identified, so is covered with the skin of this animalwith a palm fringed mask that also disguiseshis feet and hands. The whole tribe follows the shaman and the dancer in anuninterrupted stamping of feet, to avoid discontinuity. The dance continues throughout the night.

Jaguar is a war dancein which, as an exception, women also participate. The Indian menin rows, followed by another line of women, begin to sing, jumping from one foot to another. They advance twelve steps and returnwhile those who were behind pass in front, and then do the same thing in the opposite direction. This dance is characteristic of the CoroadoIndians of Rio Grande do Sul.

Kahê-Tuagê is danced by the Kanela Indians from the region of the Tocantins River during the dry season, and is dominated by the female element. Despite not being involved, as a rule, in holy or war dances, in this one women uniquely have the initiative. The dance is led by an Indian woman who is in the centre of a row of young people who have not had children. The young people in the queue stand in the same place, with their knees bent and waving their arms and body forward and backward. When the hands are in front of the body they clap, marking the rhythm. The men are rarely invited to the dance, being confined solely to respond in chorus singing the refrain.

Uariuaiú is dedicated to the howler monkey,from which some tribes consider themselves descendants. The dance is not accompanied by any instrument;only songs. The women paint their face and body, wear skirts of banana leaves and whirl around men, with their children in tow. Everyone enters into the dance imitating the monkey.

As they are of indigenous origins, the following dances of Brazilian folklore can also be cited:

* cateretê, whose name comes from the Tupi language, isconsidered one of the most genuine Brazilian rural dances. It is a kind of a foot tap with the sound of clapping and violas, and is well known in the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Goiás (where is called ‘catira’);

* caiapóswas largely danced on the São Paulo coast in earlier times. With the arrival of Europeans, the Caiapós Indians retreated to the margins of the Xingu River, passing through the states of Minas Gerais, MatoGrosso and Pará, where they spread the dance;

* cururu, a sacred dance of Tupi-Guarani origin performed solely by men, whose choreography is formed by two rows facing each other, where the dancers take two steps to the right and two left, turning the lines into small circles;

* jacundá, a dance popular in Paráthat represents fishing for a fish of the same name. It has several modes within the country’s interior. In the Amazon is known as ‘piranha’. The dancers form a circle, alternating between a man and a woman, representing the siege of the animal. In the centre of the circle, a man and a woman dance representing the fish. Singing and dancing, they try to escape from the circle. Those that allow them to escape will replace them in the centre of the circle amid the jeers of all;

* ‘o gato’ (the cat), better known in southern Brazil, is a totemic story where the cat (man) woos the partridge (woman) with a tap dance. The partridge evades the intentions of the conqueror.



Recife, 25 may 2011.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.

sources consulted

MÜLLER, Regina Polo. Danças indígenas: arte e cultura, história e performance. Indiana, n. 21, p. 127-137, 2004. Disponível em:

POVOS indígenas no Brasil. Disponível em:  . Acesso em: 19 maio  2011.

RITUAIS mantêm identidade dos povos. Disponível em:  . Acesso em: 20 maio 2011.

SALLAS, Ana Luisa Fayet. Imagens etnográficas de danças indígenas no Brasil do século XIX.  Cadernos de Antropologia e Imagem, Rio de Janeiro, v. 12, n. 1, p. 51-66, 2001.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR Lúcia, Indigenous Dances of Brazil. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009