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TUME, ‘Tosin Kooshima: The Unprofessional Use of Dance in Nollywood Films

The Unprofessional Use of Dance in Nollywood Films

‘Tosin Kooshima TUME

Dept. of Theatre & Media Arts

Federal University, Oye-Ekiti

Ekiti State, Nigeria

Email: ;

GSM: +234-803-668-1039; +234-818-343-9841


The Nigerian movie industry, popularly known as, Nollywood, has made an indelible impact in the world cinemas, in terms of production and turnover. However, in spite of its laudable achievements, Nollywood has been severely criticised for being plagued with misleading stereotypes, misrepresentation of the various Nigerian cultures, unprofessional technical management, and lacking optimal cultural content and context. Dance as an integral aspect of the Nigerian culture and traditions; mirrors the norms, nuances, sensibilities and experiences of the Nigerian worldview. Regrettably, this is not adequately reflected in Nollywood films. Dance is being employed in several Nollywood films to only portray wayward or unserious characters, or to act as a stop-gap in order to cover up for their lack of content, and in most cases the dances are poorly choreographed and performed. This trend is disturbing and significantly worrisome, as it not only distorts the world’s perception of the functionality of dance to Nigerians, but it also undermines the level of professionalism in the Nigerian dance industry. This paper therefore attempts to answer the following critical questions: What does dance mean to Nigerians as a people? How is dance being used presently in Nollywood films? In what ways can the dance art within Nollywood be repositioned for professional fulfilment and cultural diplomacy? This study which draws from several Nollywood films, finds that dance in Nigerian films is being abused, under-utilised and unprofessionally handled. This paper recommends that the use of dance in Nollywood films, should be a deliberate venture, and be choreographed as such in order to accurately project the Nigerian culture. It is further recommended that as an essential part of any movie script, dance requires the services of a professional choreographer for effective handling, and proper representation of the identity and functionality of dance in the Nigerian culture.

KEY WORDS: Nollywood Films, Dance, Professionalism, Cultural Diplomacy.

Introduction and Conceptualization

The Nigerian film industry more popularly known as Nollywood is saddled with the cumbersome responsibility of projecting the image of the Nigerian nation. Though a herculean task, the industry has been consistently doing this for about three decades now, and there are several indigenous art forms at their disposal to aid them in carrying out this special task, of which dance is one. Without doubt, Nollywood films are seen as an authentic source of the Nigerian cultural image.

Beyond entertaining, informing and educating, Nollywood films also indoctrinate the Nigerian society and the world at large, teaching them about the attitudes, culture, beliefs, and norms of the Nigerian worldview from the authentic Nigerian viewpoint. To this effect, Mabel Evwierhoma opines that “as a cultural tool, video (Nollywood films) should construct identities, using mono-cultures, cogent identities towards total change.” She advocates cultural viewing models that can ensure that we view our films in a way that they can make meaning to us, not to watch Nigerian movies with Euro-Asian or Euro-American cultural bias paradigms, in which case we lose meanings and essence. She also notes that viewership disorientation and mal-presentations of symbols, signs and materials... can create a disconnect among audiences who have no basic understanding of African material and colour connotations (Evwierhoma 3).

In the same vein, Eddy Ugbomah reiterates that the audience needs fresh and authentic African materials in Nollywood films. He further says that (African or Nigerian) people want to see films through which they could see themselves. He sees no reason why Nigerian film producers should want to ape Europe and America, when they could easily produce films which are meaningful and relevant to the Nigerian people. Adelakun also posits that,

Every culture is composed of both the material and non-material elements. The material aspects of culture include physical and concrete things such as tools utensils, dresses, house, arts and artefacts. The non-material aspects include beliefs, ideologies, norms, language, literature, names, skills/technology, and system of government. One important thing to underscore here is that the rates at which the two aspects of culture respond to change differ. Material culture responds faster than the non-material aspects. Equally, change in culture (which often leads to exchange/diffusion of cultural traits), conquests and consensus (66).

The Nollywood movies fall under the category of material culture, as the films embody a totality of solid and physical aspects of our culture, and allow for global culture dispersal. According to Idachaba, “the Nigerian home video has emerged as major purveyor of Nigerian culture, and to a large extent the African culture, due to its extensive viewership. It viewership spreads across nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and America” (90). This is something this researcher can identify with, because when outside Nigeria, foreigners tend to quickly identify the researcher’s dress, accent, and mannerisms with Nigeria, and then quickly align it with popular Nigerian movie stars, such as, Nkem Owoh, Patience Ozokwor and the likes.

Idachaba further states that “It is therefore important to examine the actual impacts of its (film) contents on its audiences. (As) the audience is the ultimate consumer of video content.”  To corroborate this, Dandaura asserts that, “the rich tourism potentials and allied cultural industries that abound in Nigeria are still begging for adequate exploration, packaging and exposure to attract appreciable direct foreign investment” (16).  The Nollywood industry is unavoidably a vital part of the cultural industries being referred to.

Dance is a concept which is of multi-functional value in the African milieu. In the African worldview, dance is used for worship, to appease supernatural/supreme powers, to aspire for a better life; rains, good harvest, to encourage warriors on their way to the battlefront, to welcome and celebrate good news, rites of passage; naming, initiation, wedding and burial ceremonies. Dance is an instrument which has entertainment, informative, didactic, historical, cultural, and of course, emotional value. It is used to canvass for social and behavioural change, and it is a cultural product which celebrates the Nigerian aesthetics, and affirms the solidity of our existence as a people. It is also a canon for altering our cultural indices.

Dance has esoteric qualities which transports the performer and audience to its land and history. Every element of dance; be it movements, floor and body patterns, music, instrument, is reflective of the message inherent in the dance. Apart from its popularly known function of entertainment, dance is a powerful subtext that depicts and identifies culture with the aid of the dance motifs vocabularies, music and costumes. Most importantly, dance serves as a culture solidifier, and an image of its society. Dance communicates and propagates culture, and it is pertinent to state here clearly, that every form of dance communicates.

As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, professionalism is “the skill, good judgement, and polite behaviour that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” The term is also used to refer to the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person. In essence, being a professional comes with the expectation of a certain level of skill, methods, and competence which should distinguish such a person from quacks or amateurs.

It is hard to avoid Nigerian movies in Africa, even when you do not out-rightly set out to watch them. They are everywhere; public buses, hotels, restaurants, and salons. Such is the popularity and influence of Nigerian films that Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, refers to it as, “the Nigerianisation” of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to snap its fingers the Nigerian way. Thus, it is also expected that with the exposure and patronage Nollywood movies enjoy, and the many years of practice in film production, the industry ought to have gone beyond some of the blunders still being associated with it. Therefore, it is a major concern that, dance; a vital instrument of communication and development, and an integral aspect of the Nigerian culture, is being relegated to the background, as its improper use wreaks untold havoc to our national image.

In the light of this, this paper attempts to find answers to the following research questions: Is the dance content of Nigerian films a true reflection of dance in the Nigerian culture? Is the use of dance in Nollywood films effective in sustaining the authentic Nigerian culture? This work attempts to peruse the functionality of dance in films beyond the mundane and decorative accompaniment being attributed to it. For a definite scope, the study scrutinizes the forms and use of dance in two select Nollywood films, Unforgivable and Married But Living Single, and gives a general overview of how dance is employed in Nollywood films.

Classifications of Nigerian Films/Nollywood Movies

The term Nigerian films or Nollywood movies is loosely used to refer to movies which are made in Nigerian, acted by Nigerian actors, or have Nigerian content in terms of culture and themes. In a post on the official website of Nollywood Reinvented, a more detailed and infographic breakdown of the various types of Nollywood movies was attempted. It is as follows:

Indigenous Movies:

This refers to movies produced in any of the three most prominent indigenous Nigerian languages. These sub-film industries are locally known as, Yollywood, for Yoruba movies; Igbowood, for Igbo movies; and Kannywood, for Hausa movies, which are mainly produced in Kano. Also in this category, we have movies produced in minority Nigerian languages like Efik, Tiv, Bini, and so on.

New Nollywood Movies

Movies in this category are classified into two:

Cinema Releases: These types of movies introduce new actors, break old barriers, have new genres, tell new stories, and reach new heights. They are typically big budget films, with obvious evidence of the filmmakers’ investment in the quality of the film. This category easily boasts of filmmakers like Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan, Obi Emelonye, Mildred Okwo, and others.

Straight to DVD Releases: These types of movies are very similar to cinema movies, but the only difference is that they are released directly on DVD into the film market or online distribution. The top players in this field are Uche Jombo, Rita Dominic, RAA and IrokoTV Productions.


Nollywood Movies: These set of movies are the popular home videos which are produced and marketed in Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu, Aba, and Asaba. These movies typically have more than one part; the soundtrack tells the whole story, demystifying suspense and intrigue; and they have overly prolonged scenes. It is easy to underestimate them, but they typify the Nollywood film industry, and their actors are more well-known than new Nollywood film actors.

Nollywood Movies in Diaspora: These are movies which have Nigerian content, shot either in or outside Nigeria, produced by producers of Nigerian descent, but are based or raised outside Nigeria.    

Dance as Used in Unforgivable

The movie, Unforgivable, directed by Desmond Elliot, is a tale of abuse of love, devotion and loyalty. Sewa (acted by Dayo Amusa), a dutiful and loving woman is married to Damola (Mike Ezuruonye) an abusive man; who eventually drives her to an early grave. He loses his only child; Tilewa, due to his violent and aggressive attitude, and only has a change of heart when he realises that his loving wife; whom he has shown nothing but hatred, is dying of cancer. He realises a bit too late that he indeed loves his wife, and that life without her would be hopeless for him.

The movie opens with a party scene where a young Damola is depicted as the life of the party; he dances with various ladies and flirts outrageously with them. In another scene where Kemi; Sewa’s friend celebrates her birthday and engagement, dance is also used to portray all the attendees as irresponsible and promiscuous. They are scantily dressed and made to do poorly executed, un-aesthetic and sexually suggestive dance movements which celebrate obscenity, nudity and sexism.

Damola loves to party and dance, and this is imprinted in the minds of viewers as an indelible trait of waywardness. Dance is used to establish his character as a wayward and unserious person. Throughout the movie, Damola is portrayed as a chronic womaniser, rapist, drunkard, a die-hard party goer and a very violent man. In the whole of this movie, these are the only two scenes in which dances were employed, and it is highly unfortunate to note that the images presented were unsavoury to say the least. The name of the choreographer is not listed in the credits, and one doubts if the dances were choreographed at all.

Dance as Used in Married But Living Single

The movie, Married But Living Single, directed by Tunde Olaoye, was inspired by a book of the same title, written by Pastor Femi Faseru of KICC, Lagos. The movie tells the story of Kate (acted by Funke Akindele), a married career woman who puts her career first to the detriment of her home. She is married to Mike (acted by Joseph Benjamin), an entrepreneur and a responsible man, who supports his wife and kids morally and financially. In the course of the movie, Mike is diagnosed with lung cancer and is to be flown to India for surgery. Kate as usual, chooses her career over her home and refuses to travel to be with her husband while he recuperates after surgery. In a series of unfolding events, Mike meets Titi (acted by Kiki Omeili), who shows him care and affection which he direly needs at the time, and he has an affair with her. Kate loses her job, and her home is threatened, but love triumphs and peace is restored into her home.

Though very brief, the use of dance in this movie warms the heart. Mike and Kate’s daughter and her friend, who happens to be the daughter of a family friend, are seen rehearsing a choreographed contemporary dance while their parents wait for them. This bit gives an insight into the lives and passion of the children; it shows that they are talented and that they spend their spare time engaging in creative activities which their parents are proud of.  The girls express their desire to be professional dancers when they grow up. This shows that dance profession is a viable one, and something to be proud of. Another scene where dance is used is when Mike decides to surprise his wife with a romantic dinner; the couple do a brief dance to celebrate their love. The dance piece isn’t overstated or vulgar, just precise, entertaining, and obviously professionally done. The name of the choreographer is Gbolahan Raheem, and it is refreshing to see dance being used in such a positive manner in Nollywood films.

Findings and Observations

The dance contents of most Nollywood films are dishonourable and alien to the African culture. They negate the morals of African culture. It only goes to show that the artistes who produce these works obviously lack, imagination, talent and integrity. Though this work is a study of only two select Nollywood movies, a general overview of Nollywood films show that there are two main types of dances featured in Nollywood movies: Indigenous and modern dances.

It is observed that most Nollywood epic movies feature poorly choreographed dance movements which are a caricature of our indigenous dances, while the contemporary movies make use of modern dances. It is also discovered that dance is used as a stop-gap or cover up to while away time when there is a lack of content in the movie, or to stretch movies to Part 2 and Part 3. The epic films are more committed to depicting the Nigerian cultural heritage via dance, which is more than can be said for the so-called ‘modern’ Nollywood films, who perform most of their dances in parties or club houses to depict unserious, wayward or mad characters. Which begs the question of how many mad people really dance on the streets? This is a gross misrepresentation of what dance means to us as a people, suffice to say that the audience mostly get wrong vibes from the use of ‘modern dance’ in Nollywood films.

Among the salient problems of the usage of dance in Nollywood films is poor studio work which results in a marriage of errors between the music and dance movements. We also realise that dance is being employed as an afterthought to embellish the storyline, and not as an initial part of the movie.

Sexual and sensuous forms of dances seem to be the most popular in Nollywood films. The reason being that it is now widely accepted that “sex sells”. In which case, this researcher thinks that the audience may have bought enough sex to last us all a lifetime. The blatant nudism displayed in Nollywood films and even musical videos is raw, crude, vulgar, distasteful and inimical to the Nigerian and indeed African culture, and most times embarrassing to the viewer. This poor application and imitation of western cultural tenets in our film productions stem from a deep-seated inferiority complex, and should be done away with. The resultant images are a travesty, a grave crime, a poisoning of our culture, and it accounts for why the average Nigerian teenager strives for a ‘sexy’ look.

            Female dancers are usually “thingified” in these movies and nothing is being done about it. The usual scenario is where well-dressed men flaunting cash and expensive drinks are surrounded by near-naked ladies. Women are seen as playthings who should be ‘served’ to men alongside food and drinks, and this is one of the reasons why men from the younger generation disrespects women, and violence against women is on the rise.  

A dance movie is that in which there is a deliberate dance choreography which serves as the medium of communicating the storyline. Dance here is an essential part of the script, take dance away, and you have an incomplete story. Not just some movies where people dance. This is what is obtainable in stage theatrical productions; hence, there is the possibility of a dance movie genre to emerge. It is high time Nigerian choreographers discovered the movie industry. Choreographers should embrace the initiative and seek for funds to produce dance-based movies. They should borrow a leaf from the recorded success of stage theatrical productions and break into the movie industry. The Nigerian cultural diversity will be an advantage, and it will be a refreshing genre apart from the over-flogged themes and storylines in Nollywood. A combination of professional choreography and acrobatic stunts done in the Nigerian context, with the right mix of a good storyline, talented dancers, and excellent technical editing will be an instant box office success.

Baby Dance With Tears, starring Mercy Johnson, is a nice attempt. This is a movie about an orphaned housemaid whose love for dance is legendary. Whenever she is maltreated, she dances her sorrows away. It so happens that her passion for dancing leads to an unbelievable opportunity of a lifetime. The lead actor has a talent but the dance movements were not professionally handled. Going through the credits, there was no name of a choreographer. Though, a good storyline, but the involvement of a professional choreographer would have made a huge difference.

            With the emergence of I’ll Take My Chances, a dance-based Nollywood movie, which stars Ini Edo, we eagerly look forward to more professionally produced dance movies in the mould of American movies like Honey, You Got Served, and Save the Last Dance, which will explore the use of dance as a medium of communication.

Conclusion and Recommendations

As Buratai rightly noted,

many conferences, workshops and seminars have been held on the theme of (cultural industry and) sustainable development. This is so much so that it is plausible to conclude that we may not be lacking in what to do about the situation, or how to do it; the issue, rather, is when to begin to take action that is required (84).

This brings us to the juncture where the way forward needs to be directly addressed.

Filmmaking is an offshoot of the theatre industry, and as such is also a collaborative effort, which requires the various theatrical hands to be on deck to achieve successful products. Dance is a composite of the theatre, and a vocation and source of empowerment for dancers and choreographer. As such, the role of the choreographer should not be undermined or underplayed.

Film is a dominant medium in Africa and the world at large, linking distant societies, fostering exchange of ideas and cultures. It is the way Africans see their own continent and how others see Africans. Though dance is being used as an embellishment to the storyline in films, this should not in any way undermine its uniqueness and efficacy as an image. Understanding the role of dance as an image puts it in a different position in films, and will encourage a more effective usage. A wrong usage of dance in films, automatically reduces our image as a people and portrays us negatively to the rest of the world.

It is no secret that Nigerian film producers prefer low-budget movies that they can shoot within a short period and at a low cost, but a good dance production requires good choreography and ample rehearsal time. This does not conform with the usual time table of Nigerian producers who shoot movies within five days. They see paying attention to dance as a waste of valuable time, energy and resources; because, after all, in their opinion, “Is it not just dance?” Dance should be an integral and deliberate part of the movie, choreographed as an essential part of the script, not just to occur in the film.

            Nigerian film makers should endeavour to go the extra mile in ensuring a production of aesthetic, tasteful, and truly Nigerian films. They should avoid resorting to cheap and quick productions in a bid to cut corners and maximise profit, but engage core and seasoned professionals; in every area generally, and dance particularly, who will painstakingly follow a thorough process for qualitative outputs. There are several dance schools and companies in Nigeria with professional dancers, engaging them will be costlier and more time-consuming but the output will be good and he standard will be qualitative. In Nigeria today, there are quite a number of professional choreographers and dance groups who are worth their salt. We have the likes of Spirit of David Dance Crew, Kaffy Shafau’s Imagneto Dance Company, Dayo Liadi’s Ijodee Dance Company, and others. They should be engaged to do a thorough and more professional ob of choreography in Nollywood movies. Patronage of professional dance artistes and choreographers will develop the dance industry and ensure quality assurance.

The organisers of movie awards like African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Nigerian Movie Awards (NMA), and so on, who are the bodies which assess films, should create award categories for Best Dance and Choreography in movies. This will motivate film producers and choreographers, and also create a positive competitive and creative atmosphere.

Works Cited

Adelakun, Abraham. “Cultural Documentation and Structural Analysis.” In Perspectives on Cultural Administration in Nigeria, Olu Obafemi & Barclays Ayakoroma (Eds.). Ibadan: Kraft Books Ltd, 2011.

Amusa, Dayo. Unforgivable. Lagos: Adekaz Productions Ltd, 2013.

Buratai, Mohammed. “Cultural Industry and Sustainable Development.” in Perspectives on Cultural Administration in Nigeria Olu Obafemi & Barclays Ayakoroma (Eds.). Ibadan: Kraft Books Ltd, 2011.

Dandaura, Emmanuel. “Introduction.” In Perspectives on Cultural Administration in Nigeria. In Olu Obafemi & Barclays Ayakoroma (Eds.). Ibadan: Kraft Books Ltd, 2011.

Evwierhoma, Mabel. “Getting Out of the Woods.” A Paper Presented at the BOBTV Film    Market, International Conference Centre, Abuja. 14 Mar. 2006.

Fasheru, Femi. Married But Living Single. Lagos:Asher Projects Ltd, 2009.

Kalejaiye, Paul. Married But Living Single. Lagos: Paulo International Concepts Ltd & Indelible Mark Media, 2012.

Idachaba, Aduku. “Audience Perception of the Nigerian Home Video Film.” In New Frontiers: A Publication of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja,     1.3. Abuja: Reprographics Communications Ltd, 2010.


“The Different Types of Nollywood Movies Explained.” Posted by Nollywood Reinvented in   Features on 14 Jan. 2015 <http://www.nollywoodreinvented.com/2015/01/the   different-types-of-nollywood.html