From snarly to snappy, new warm-ups are a far cry from the haka

The Samoan men’s team and New Zealand women’s team have ditched pre-game traditional war dances and replaced them with modern pop choreographies to warm up and strengthen rugby team spirits.

Picture by Thomas Lovelock/IOC/OIS

This generation of rugby sevens teams is turning ritual on its head. Out is the traditional pre-game war dance - wrought with deep-throated howls and choreographed stomps - and in is, well, the happy dance. Before nearly every training and match, the Samoan men’s rugby sevens team gathers together and performs a modern dance routine to the song Seve, by French DJ Tez Cadey. 

“We started this in Samoa during our trainings,” said team captain Pio Fuiono. “It’s a new idea for the whole team to come together and forget the pressure, getting into the spirit of the game.” The new warm-up is in stark contrast to the Manu Siva Tau, the traditional Samoan war dance that the country’s various national teams typically perform before matches. The YOG players form a circle, stepping side-to-side in a choreographed dance ritual that is a strange, yet lovable cross between hip-hop and cheerleading. Clapping to the beat with shouts of “ahhhhh” and well-timed “hisses” make for a happy and joyful dance.

This new dance often invokes ear-to-ear smiles from onlookers. “The other teams look at us like ‘What are they doing?’ and (then) they ask us. Sometimes they ask us to do it again,” said Fuiono.

Sadly, Samoa proved a little too accommodating on Saturday, as they lost 50-7 to Argentina before drawing 24-24 with USA in their pool matches. They will hope to restore their fearsome reputation on Sunday.

Things were different in the women’s tournament, where favourites New Zealand got off to a flying start, inspired by two well-rehearsed, non-traditional routines. The teammates form a circle, often with an inner and outer ring, dancing to the upbeat songs Deep and Dream by Amir Farhoodi, of Iran, and Can You Feel It, by Aaron Duncan, of Trinidad and Tobago. The latter song is a snappy reggae tune, with players moving to what might represent some form of the electric slide. 

The New Zealand women’s team perform their new modern dance ritual during warmup ahead of the pool match against Tunisia
Picture by The New Zealand women’s team perform their new modern dance ritual during warm-up ahead of the pool match against Tunisia (Thomas Lovelock for OIS/IOC)

This leisurely routine is a far cry from the traditional haka war dance performed by New Zealand’s national team and current world champions, the All Blacks. But it inspired New Zealand women to two resounding victories on day one, as they beat Tunisia 53-0 and Colombia 38-5.

“You’ve got to have your rugby side and you’ve got to have your life on the outside of rugby,” New Zealand player Kalyn Takitimu-Cook said. “So this is like a culture where everyone has a bit of a laugh and don’t take themselves so seriously. The haka is more like a challenge to the other team or a way to say thank-you for having us, but this is just a way to break it down, get loose and have a dance.”