Traditional French Polynesian music works hand in hand with dance to tell a story. The Polynesian percussion vocabulary uses multiple flexible phrases, each of which has a distinct name (Napoko, Toma, second Toma, Pahae, second Pahae, Paea, Puara-Ta, Takoto, Mati, Bora Bora, etc.) to construct the narrative that provides context for the dance. In class we’re going to some of these phrases to develop the narrative of a hip-shaking, grass-skirt-wearing Tahitian dance called an “ote’a.”
The Tahitian ote’a is not a Hawaiian hula; it’s much faster and, purposefully, not nearly as graceful. Music used for ote’as is vocal-free–only drums (to’eres, pahu, etc.) are allowed. Some ote’as are for men only, some for women only, some for all to dance together. For their dances men often choose narrative themes such as sailing or battles. Women often sing of nature or create images from their home lives. In either case, the theme of the ote’a should inform all the moves in the dance.