The conventional forms of European dancing were unknown to the Maori who evolved a number of rhythmic activities best described as posture dances. In their more vigorous expression these took on the character of a strenuous exercise and were danced with remarkable vigour and enthusiasm. On the other hand certain posture dances, such as those performed by well-trained young women, were marked by grace of action and appropriate song.
According to Maori legend, posture dancing had its origin in the coming of Hine-raumati, the Summer Maid, whose presence on calm, warm days was revealed in a curious quivering appearance in the air. This was the Haka of Tane-rore, he who was born of the Summer Maid and claimed Ra, the sun, as his father. Another variant interprets the phenomenon as the Dancing of the Summer Maid, and it is personified in Pare-arohi, who appears in the fifth month, and who mated with Rehua, who represents the heat of summer.
The haka was danced without weapons, in contrast to the war dances (tutu ngaruhu or peruperu) which were danced with spears, clubs, or other weapons in hand. The haka, which expressed a variety of emotions such as joy, anger, and sorrow, called for exceptional rhythmical skill. Many were marked by a curious, rapid vibration of the hands; other motions included a stamping in unison, facial distortion (protruding tongue and eyeballs), rhythmical out-thrusts and movements of the arms, as well as a swaying of the body. Haka performed in a sitting position were as a rule of a milder character, with swaying motions from the arms and bodies. Every haka had its expert leader who gave time to the music and the motions of the dance.