The Most Impossible Dance in the World, The Zaouli, Explained
by Ashley Dreiling
Zaouli is a popular African mask dance created by the Guoro people, who live along the Ivory Coast in the Bandama River valley. The seductive dance is characterized by the beat of the music, the dancer’s leg movements, and perhaps most importantly, the mask. It’s even believed that Michael Jackson‘s legendary dance moves were taken from the Zaouli.
The dancer creates quite a spectacle while the drummer follows the dancer – on the beat and in time with his movements – instead of the other way around. His legs move intentionally fast and furious without any repeated movements, while the dancer’s upper body remains still.
Once the dancer dons the mask, the Zaouli becomes sacred. Made of Yaranza wood, the mask is meant to celebrate feminine beauty, and can take up to 6 days to make, depending on the individual artisan’s process, which is kept secret. It is believed that the masked dancer is no longer himself, moving even faster as he’s taken over by the mask’s superhuman spirits.