The Delight of Yospan, Traditional West Papuan Friendship Dance

West Papua

If you attend events, ceremonies, or festivals in West Papua, traditional dances will be common sights. One of the most popular ones is Yospan Dance, a contemporary folk dance with such unique and dynamic choreography. Combining various elements of local dances, Yospan is one of the most exciting parts of Papuan culture.

Yospan and West Papua Dance Culture 

West Papua

Unlike many traditional dances in this region, Yospan is a contemporary art form. Created in the 60s, the name of this dance combined the words “Yosim” and “Pancar”, which are also names of folk dances. The dance was first popular in the northern coast area, but it slowly spread to other regions.

The movements of Yospan were also inspired by Yosim and Pancar. Yosim is a traditional West Papuan dance with more dynamic movements and free expressions, with subtle elements of European dance such as polonaise. Meanwhile, Pancar has a more limited range of movements, yet considered a “classic” type of dance compared to Yosim. Yospan combines movement types from these dances.

Yospan was once popular as a physical exercise form among government offices and civil servants in West Papua. While it was no longer obligatory, Yospan is still popular for events like festivals, competitions, ceremonies, and welcoming events (such as for tourists or important guests). Yospan is open for new interpretation or modification as contemporary dance, making it a popular creative project among students and local communities.

Details of Yospan Dance

West Papua

Here is everything you need to know about this popular folk dance in West Papua.

  • Numbers of Dancers

Anyone, regardless of age and gender, can do Yospan, but since this is considered a “friendship” or “courtship” dance, the numbers of the dancers should be even. The typical numbers are six, although eight or even ten and twelve are also common, depending on the size of the venue and the importance of the event.

  • Music and Instruments

Aside from dancers, Yospan also requires several musicians in its dance troupe. They combine popular instruments such as guitar and ukulele with traditional ones like three-string bass with pandanus strings, a traditional hourglass-shaped drum called tifa, and dried calabash filled with pebbles or beads as an acoustic instrument.

There is no strict musical rule in this West Papua popular dance. Musicians may play popular folk or even local pop songs. Depending on the events, many local composers will have their songs used in Yospan. Sometimes, the dancers also sing to accompany the musicians, making them look more dynamic when performing.

  • Dance Costumes

The dance costumes in Yospan mimic typical traditional costume designs. Dancers wear skirts or top with decorative headpieces, armbands, and anklets from plants. Sometimes, they may have their faces and some parts of the body painted. However, since Yospan is a contemporary dance with carefree nature, dancers are free to modify the costumes.

For examples, some dance teams may combine traditional with modern elements in their outfits, such as t-shirts, leggings, or even uniforms. Dancers in big events may aim for a more “authentic” look, complete with traditional jewelry or accessories.

The Importance of Yospan Dance

West Papua

Yospan Dance has special meaning for locals in West Papua. Since its creation, this dance has been showcased for several purposes, such as:

  • Creative Exploration

Yospan is a contemporary dance with fewer restrictions and rules than traditional ones. Therefore, dancers and musicians are free to explore new movements, musical styles, and choreography. This makes Yospan a great tool to teach locals or students arts and encourage them to be more creative.

  • Social Glue

Yospan is known as both courtship and friendship dance in West Papua. Therefore, this dance serves as social glue in various events. Young people love expressing their joy, relationship, and friendship through the dynamic movements of the dance. Dancing Yospan together is also a quick way to create closeness with others, such as during a social event.

  • Local Pride

As a popular contemporary dance that combines various traditional elements, Yospan is a great way to welcome visitors and guests to special events. Through Yospan, people can glimpse the richness of Papuan culture through the costumes, music, and dance movements.

  • Artist Showcasing

Since there are no strict rules about music, Yospan dance troupes have more freedom in exploring the best music for their choreographies. Yospan became a great tool to popularize or showcase songs and composition by local artists. Musicians can also introduce audiences to various traditional songs.

  • Promotion for Tourism

Yospan Dance is popular as a welcome dance for tourists from various countries or regions in Indonesia. Through the dance, locals can introduce visitors to Papua through the song, music, dance, and outfit. This dance is also treated as one of the artistic “ambassadors” to pique interests in Papuan culture, tradition, and warmth.

Dance and music are big parts of living in Papua, including popular contemporary dances. Yospan is a popular dance from West Papua that carries the local spirit of creativity, social dynamic, and acceptance toward visitors.