The Incredible Stilt Dancers of Cote d’Ivoire – 23 Photos

The following is the story of my visit to see the famous stilt dancers of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  It was easily one of the best experiences I had in all of my time in West Africa so far.  You can expect much more about this story in different forms in months to come.  It will likely be featured in an upcoming issue of Vagabundo Magazine.  Moreover, if you’re following my channel on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/itsmylife365brendan) there is a video from this coming up in days to come.  Anyways, I hope you like the story.  I give you, the stilt dancers of Cote d’Ivoire:

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The Incredible Stilt Dancers of Cote d’Ivoire

I sit uncomfortably with my legs somehow squeezed between my chest and the seat in front of me.  My feet stand atop of a large bag of chili peppers I try my best not to squish.  An old lady sits beside me to my left, not afraid to stare at the odd sight of seeing a white man in a public bus in North-West Cote d’Ivoire; her eyes rarely wander from my face.  Through the window to my right a scene of villages occasionally spot the red-earthed landscape.  Huts of mud and thatched roofs dot the flat-lands occasionally back-dropped by green mountains.

The mini-bus stops after a couple hours of travel and I am ushered out of the vehicle.  My guide tells me we have about 6 kilometers to walk until we reach the village where the famous stilt dancers of Cote d’Ivoire will preform.  I feel worlds away from normal, a feeling that I always seem to enjoy.

Cote d'Ivoire Stilt Dancers

As we approach the village, my legs still aching from yesterday’s 32km hike of one of West Africa’s highest peaks, the presence of children is the first thing I notice; and they notice me. Each of the buildings we pass, children’s peering eyes gaze out at us. They play a game of “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” as they hide behind the walls of round buildings and giant pottery. They are curious and shy; but their shyness doesn’t last very long. I am soon surrounded by children holding my hand and trying to climb onto my back.

Unfortunately, at the first village we arrive, there has been a death the night before. The stilt dance has been cancelled in the wake, and we are told to go down the road another 5km where they will be waiting for us.

As we arrive in the second village, I am swarmed by children. They have learned the magic of the camera and the fun that is the group picture. They have learned that after each time the camera goes click they’ll get to see a new image on the back screen. A scene soon develops of dozens of children pushing and shoving their way to view the LCD of my camera laughing hysterically as they do. I take a couple hundred photos, not even ones I would use myself, just to amuse the children. Their laughter is priceless.

Cote d'Ivoire Stilt Dancers

Soon, a group of elders makes their way out and with a simple shout of a word or two the children all scatter off leaving me and my camera alone. The rhythm of drums beating soon begins to fill the air and a mood of excitement stretches across the faces of the kids. A couple drummers walk into view and stop, leaving behind a trail of dust in the air. Old men begin walk into the open area as children race over to place a wooden chair behind them. They light up a cigarette, a sign of wealth in the rural villages, and cross their legs in patience.

Young women dressed in white begin to funnel into the scene from different directions and begin to encircle the drummers in a slow trance-like dance. Their beautiful voices carry a song of happiness into the air like a morning dove in the spring after a gentle rain. The party is slow to develop, but what it lacks in speed it earns in dramatics.

What started slowly has now developed to an all out festival in theatrics. Men with tassels made of thatches and animal fur wrapped around their arms and waste take over the middle of the dance floor whirling and stepping to the beat. They pass each of the elders, dancing especially for them. They are followed by women dotted with white paint. They too seem to sense the trance. Their eyes stay half-closed as they weave from foot to foot carrying the notes of the music with them. They occasionally look up, a pause from their captured state, and smile.

The dance culminates in a spectacular fashion as the famous stilt dancers of Cote d’Ivoire have their moment in the sun. Hoping his way into the scene the stilt dance looks both arrogant and brash. He stops in the middle, raises his arms to his side and lets out an animalistic cry to the gods. The stilt dancer twirls on one leg before plopping down and letting out another call. It really is like seeing something from another world. The stilt dancers are taught to take non-human form in their dance, and it is evident. I can’t help by stand in awe as I look upon the scene. The stilt dancer is so mysterious, so powerful, and so intimidating,

Stilt Dancer, Cote d'Ivoire

Stilt Dancer, Cote d'IvoireStilt Dancer, Cote d'Ivoire

Stilt Dancers of Cote d'Ivoire

At the end of the show, the stilt dancer grabs my hand and pulls me in to the center of the scene, leading me like a father his son. Surrounded by the eyes and laughter of a hundred Ivoirian villagers, I dance. It’s an experience you can garner at home. Like love, it’s a feeling that you can’t explain to those who have never felt it. It’s a sensation that just doesn’t have meaning to anyone else but you. At the end of the day, watching the famous stilt dancers in Cote d’Ivoire was one of the best days not only in my travels but of my entire life. It’s a memory I’ll keep with me for ever, and an experience no one can ever take away from me. I feel blessed to have experienced it, and I feel even more privilege to share the experience with you.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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8 Comments

  1. What a unique experience. You’re very lucky to have witnessed it. Moments like this make a trip for me.

    I recently saw, in Kerala, a hypnosis-induced trance dance. Was shocking & powerful, it was highlight of my month there!

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  2. You captured some really nice portrait shots Brendan. This seems like an amazing experience.

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  3. I’m curious if they put on the show just for you or if there were other tourists. Is it a scheduled daily event or someone does it when a tourist arrives? Sounds cool!

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    • Other Tourists? Haha. Laura, I haven’t seen another tourist in months! The show was put on for me, if you check out the video for the dance which I just posted here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8O8RVYxiFw it gives a bit of insight into how it all went down. The stilt dance usually only happens on certain days, but they’ll put on a show for tourists who come by (to honour them) if they are given a bit of money. I paid $40. It was worth every penny.

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  4. Wow but you had me with you every step there, and marvelous pix. I’m wondering if the dance has a special meaning?

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  5. Great post, man! I’ll be making it to west Africa next year (not Cote d’Ivoire this time, though) and hoping I’ll get to experience something as unique as this on my travels. Love the photos of the kids by the way, nice shots! 🙂

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    • Thanks Tom – Where are you heading in west Africa?

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  6. Hey Brendan, awesome post! I realise that this post is now 5 years old but we are now in Man and are trying to figure out logistics of exactly how to do this ourselves. Specifically, how to get there and back from Man, and if you can do it in a day or if you have to overnight in the village? Can we PM you somehow?

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