Dances teach social patterns and values and help people work, mature, praise or criticize members of the community while celebrating festivals and funerals, competing, reciting history, proverbs and poetry; and to encounter gods. African dances are largely participatory, with spectators being part of the performance. With the exception of some spiritual, religious or initiation dances, there are traditionally no barriers between dancers and onlookers. Even ritual dances often have a time when spectators participate.
There are no singular definitions of African dance: Africa, a continent three times the size of the United States, is ethnically and culturally the most diverse on the planet. Though similar themes may be found throughout dances across the many countries and landscapes, each has its own history, language, song, background, and purpose and cannot be translated to another dance of the same culture much less another dance from somewhere else on the continent.