Traditional Tongan dances are stories sung by the singers and acted out by the dancers. As in Samoa, the words are represented by movements of the hands and feet, not the hips. The graceful movements of the female dancers contrast with those of the males, who dance with great vigor. A punake is a combination poet, composer, and choreographer who writes the songs then trains and leads the dancers.
The lakalaka is a standing dance that begins slowly but builds to a rhythmic finish. The male and female dancers stand on opposite sides of the stage, backed by a choir, and everyone sings a song especially composed for the occasion. A major lakalaka can involve hundreds of people and last half an hour.
The ma'ulu'ulu is a sitting dance usually performed by groups of women accompanied by nafa on formal occasions.
Standing girls perform the ula. Unlike these, the kailao, or war dance, has no accompanying song. The stamping feet, shouts of the leader, and insistent rhythm of the drums combine to make this dance popular among visitors.
Very different is the dignified tau'olunga, in which a girl dances alone, knees held closely together, at weddings or village functions.
Your best chance to see real Tongan dancing is a fund-raising event (watch how the Tongans contribute, then give your share), on national holidays or during visits by VIPs. The Tonga National Center in Nuku'alofa presents two Tongan dance shows a week, as do some of the hotels and resorts. For a listing of compact discs of traditional Tongan music, visit South Pacific Music.