A Dance with the Dead

When you look at Haiti and other tribal nations, the act of dancing is used as a way to “escape” or “get outside of the body.” It is not only a state of mind, but is also a way of life. These dances are performed sometimes so violently with a mixture of might and sweat, that the dancers lose themselves in a sort of trance which is supposed to allow a spirit to enter the body.


When a spirit enters the body, it is believed that the dancer will receive a newfound power, as well as a moment of healing and rejuvenation. It is said that the dancers will then absorb the energy of this spirit. The spirit that a dancer is trying to reach is called a loa. A loa is a spirit or saint that are individual beings, as well as part of Bondye, who represents the god of energy. In French, Bondye stands for “good god” and is considered to be the ultimate power within the Vodou religion. He is also referred to as Gran Met or “Great Master.”


Drums create the music that is used to call these spirits. Every song that is played is meant to call on a specific loa, according to their particular drumbeat. All loas have their own specific drumbeat that is used for them and only them. When a loa does appear, there are various characteristics that are attached to each.


For example, the spirit of Nature is called Gran Bwa, who is supposed to instill within a dancer the knowledge of plants and herbs that possess healing powers. Powers of healing and comfort come with Gran Bwa’s dance steps, which are described as being forceful. The goddess of Love is called Erzulie, whose dance moves are shy and delicate. A dancer who calls upon Erzulie hopes to gain the insight to deal with matters of the heart, as well as community issues, emotional stability and an understanding of relationships.


Other spirits that are called upon during the act of “dancing with the dead” include the spirit of warriorship whose name is Ogoun, as well Baron, who is referred to as being in charge of the dead. Baron fills many different roles, including protector and guardian of the cemetery, as well as the one who is supposed to welcome the dead. His other role includes protector of children, when they have entered the world for the first time. He represents the connection between life and death.


The dancing with the dead ceremonies is not only a spiritual outlet for some, but also serve another positive purpose. It has been shown when studying the spirit dances of the American Salish Indian tribes, that drumming has an effect on those who participate in its act and feel the drums presence. A report stated that drumming actually affects the brain wave activity of the dancers, where a healthier outlook on life is gained, in turn creating a healthier body. Drumming allows a body to undergo a process of healing.