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Tahitian Dance Costumes

Admiring the old dance costumes at the Musee des Iles (Museum of the Islands on Tahiti),these pieces of art were so elaborate already back in the day and so majestic in nature, each made with 100% natural materials. I was in awe! Our ancestors were avant-garde fashion designers that every today’s haute couture designers get their inspiration from but no one ever mentions it.

Tahitian dance is not only expressed through movement and sound but is also showcased through elaborate and alluring dress. Tahitian dance costumes have become more than an element of costume to accompany Tahitian dance but have evolved as an integral part of Tahitian dance practice that accentuates the art form.

Tahitian dance costumes are a meaningful component to Tahitian dance. Tahitian costumes relate not only to the storytelling of the dance but they allow its audience to fully understand the theme the dance is conveying. While dance and costume have been a part of Tahitian culture for centuries, there was a period of time when it was not.

When the British missionaries arrived in The Islands of Tahiti in the early 19th century, they found many of the practices of the Tahitian people to not be in alignment with the pre-20th-century concept of Christianity. Because of this, they decided to abolish Tahitian dancing in 1820. The ban lasted more than 130 years. Finally, in the 1950s, the lost tradition was once again embraced with the resurgence of ‘Ori Tahiti.

Madeleine Moua, who is credited with changing the public opinion of Tahitian dance, created the first dance group called Heiva. Since dance was abolished previously, Madeleine was very strategic in her approach to reintroducing the lost art to Tahitians. She focused on coordinating amazing costumes to the exceptional dance form. She is also considered to be the creator of the coconut bra or tapea titi, which is still used in Polynesian dance costume today. Madeleine often traveled the world promoting ‘Ori Tahiti, up until her death in 1989. The annual cultural festival in The Islands of Tahiti, Heiva i Tahiti, is named after Madeleine’s original dance group.

Traditionally, Tahitian costumes and headdress are made up of vegetable fibers, flowers, shells, feathers, handcrafted coconut bras, and grass-like material. The materials used in these pieces showcase the Tahitian connection to the earth and their land.

**Gallery below - Photos courtesy of Musee de Tahiti et de set Iles


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