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Dance styles and props

HakaPoi danceWaiata ā-ringa | Rākau  |  TaiahaPoiPatu  | Related website

Dance styles

Haka is the generic term for Māori dance, but today, it is generally used to refer specifically to a Māori challenge or war dance. Alan Armstrong (1964, page 1) defines the haka as follows:

The haka is a composition played by many instruments. Hands, feet, legs, body, voice, tongue and eyes all play their part in blending together to convey in their fullness the challenge, welcome, exultation, defiance or contempt...

Alan Armstrong

Haka dates back to the creation of the universe and was first performed by Tānerore, son of Hine Raumati, the wife of Tama-Nui-Te-Rā, the sun god. There are several styles of haka. The haka peruperu is a war dance performed with weapons. However, most haka performed today are haka taparahi – haka without weapons. The haka 'Ka Mate', which has been famous as the haka performed by the All Blacks, is presented without weapons and is therefore not specifically a war dance. The words 'Ka mate! Ka mate!' mean 'We're going to die!' and are thought to be derived from the words spoken by the famous chief Te Rauparaha when he hid in a kūmara pit to escape from his enemies. The haka pōwhiri is a haka of welcome, which is interspersed with specific roles for men and women, for example, the wero (challenge), the karanga (women's call), and karakia (prayers).

Poi dance
Originally warriors used poi to improve the dexterity of their wrists. The movements are circular and central to the use of all weaponry. Today it is mostly women who dance with poi. They swing them to depict the story of a song through hitting techniques and flowing movements. The sound of the poi can also be an integral component in a composition (for example, suggesting the fluttering of a bird's wings). A poi performer should show skill of movement that radiates naturally from the body.

Waiata ā-ringa
A waiata ā-ringa (action song) is a song in which dancers use their hands, bodies, and legs to illustrate the words or ideas behind a song. Dancers can warm up by combining mahi ā-ringa (handwork) with actions for the feet.

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Dancers use a variety of rākau (wooden sticks) in haka. All are derived from warfare. The shortest rākau are called tītītōrea and are used in stick games where they are hit together or thrown. Tī rākau are approximately the length of an arm. They are used singly and are held with both hands palm up. All tī rākau movements begin with an inward curl action, followed by an outward action with full arm extension.

Māori consider the taiaha to be the premier weapon. It is sometimes ornately carved, with a 'head' at one end and a blade at the other. It is considered to have great mauri (life force), which is reflected in the head of the taiaha. The 'eye' on the taiaha represents its wairua or spirit. Learners begin skill training with a plain rākau, often a piece of mānuka. The taiaha becomes more ornate as the person becomes more proficient.

Poi are soft, hand-held balls attached to a string. They can be used singly or in pairs. Dancers use three lengths of poi:

  • short poi: the length from the fingertips to the wrist
  • three-quarter poi: the length from the fingertips to the elbow
  • long poi: the length from the fingertips to the shoulder.

A patu (or mere) is a short, hand-held fighting club made of wood, whalebone, or pounamu (greenstone). Patu generally have two uses: for close combat and to emphasise the spoken word in speeches. The fluttering movement of the patu is called kakapa. Patu should be held at a 90-degree angle to the wrist. Dancers use many defensive and attacking movements, some involving both hands. The skilled performer may use two patu at a time.

Related websites

Dance exemplars:

National Kapa Haka. www.maori.org.nz/waiata

Exploring Te Ao Kori. www.tki.org.nz/r/hpe/exploring_te_ao_kori/sitemap_e.php

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