ōteʻa (commonly spelled otea) is a traditional Tahiti dance characterized by rapid hip movements accompanied by percussion. Dancers standing in multiple rows can be additionally positioned to perform various figures (including tamau, waru, otama, ami, and faarapu) while maintaining hip shaking. The movement of the hip itself in some choreographies may be synchronized between multiple dancers and may be further coordinated with the accompanying percussion arrangement.
Dance only to the music (drums) in a fast rhythm, without singing. The drum may be one of various types of tōʻere, a longitudinally slotted, lying log that is struck with one or two sticks. Additional types of drums to accompany the dance may include the sharkskin-covered ng drum, beaten with hands or sticks, played at a slower pace, or the smaller faʻatētē drum.
ōteʻa is one of the few dances that already existed in pre-European times as a male dance. (On the other hand, the hura (the Tahitian name for hula), a dance for women, disappeared, as did the couple dance upaupa, but which may have reappeared as tamure). However, nowadays ōteʻa can be danced by men (ōteʻa tāne), women (ōteʻa vahine), or both sexes (ōteʻa āmui = united ō.). The ōteʻa dancers mimic daily routines with gestures. For men, gesture topics can be chosen from war or swimming, and then they can use spears or oars. For women, the themes of gestures are usually closer to home or nature: hand gestures that involve combing hair, or the flight of a butterfly. More difficult themes were adopted; for example, the one where the dancers get on the map of Tahiti, highlighting important places. In proper ōteʻa, the story of the theme should permeate the entire dance.
The costumes are extremely elaborate, usually including long skirts made of vegetable fiber (“grass”), a belt with tassels to accentuate the movement of the hips, may also include embellished headdresses, and may be color coordinated with the company’s dancers. It also uses the same greater number of dresses and the same shaking of the knees for boys and Tahitian hips for girls, as in all Tahitian dances (see tamure).