Mask dance – A living cultural heritage
If you enjoy seeing local culture up close, mask dance is a completely unique experience that you will remember forever. Its traditions have their roots in social, cultural and spiritual rituals which date back thousands of years.
From a form of entertainment to a means of expression, dancing has played (and continues to play) a key role in Inuit culture. Greenlandic mask dancing is one of the oldest forms of story-telling, in which the performer incorporates three key emotions into a routine: humor, fear and sexuality.
From wooden masks to face paints
Once upon a time, driftwood masks were modeled on human faces, often with distorted features designed to shock and intrigue. Traditions developed over time, moving towards the eye-catching black, white and red face paints that are still seen today and the distinctive wooden block that many dancers hold in their mouths throughout a routine.
While masks once represented characters and spirits from mythological tales, today’s symbolism is often more nuanced, invoking emotions and ancestors as well as the spirit world. Typically, the dancer will be accompanied by a drummer, who will play the handheld drum that is unique to Greenland known as the qilaat. Usually, the frame is made from animal bones, with stretched hide or skin used to create the covering.
Supposed to be scary
Mask dance is often performed in towns and villages during celebrations of the shortest day of the year and the return of the sun in December and January. The dance was, and still is, done primarily for entertainment, but it also has an educational factor to it. It is supposed to be scary, so children can learn how to react to the challenges they encounter in life without panicking.
Photo: Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland
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