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History of the Folk Dance "Pata Pata"

dance image by Deborah Durbin from Fotolia.com

"Pata Pata" is a rhythmic dance that originated in South Africa and was introduced to the United States in the late 1960s. This simple dance is especially popular with younger children.


"Pata Pata" is a rhythmic, South African dance that can be performed either sitting or standing, though it is usually done while seated. Sung and written in the Xhosa language, "Pata Pata" is loosely translated to mean "touch, touch."


Miriam Makeba, a singer/songwriter from South Africa, wrote the song "Pata Pata" in 1957, when she was still living in Johannesburg. She recorded and released the song in the United States in 1967.


The dance steps for "Pata Pata" originated in Johannesburg. The lyrics of Makeba's song along with the dance movements flow together as a celebration of life.

The catchy song beat and lyrics and the simple movements gathered a following through the 1970s and 1980s, with the "Pata Pata" becoming a popular dance in many nightclubs across the world. Makeba laughingly called "Pata Pata" the "only dance song I ever wrote."

Dance Steps

The "Pata Pata" dance involves two eight-counts of using your arms to pat the ground and your side. For the first four counts, you use your right arm to pat the ground and your thigh, and then your left arm to do the same. For the second four counts, you create a V shape with your arms, and then clap.

For the third four counts, you reach your arms upward and across your body, and then pat the ground. You do this for both your left and right sides.

The final four counts are spent "punching" your arms out in front of you, and then patting the ground. You do this for both your right and left sides.

Used as Exercise

The "Pata Pata" is a low-impact aerobic dance--incorporating the "Pata Pata" into a regular exercise routine can help improve coordination and overall fitness.

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