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The World's Best Version Of Speed Dating Takes Place In The Niger Desert

It's part beauty contest, part dance-off, and entirely woman-led.

Posted on November 13, 2014, at 12:03 p.m. ET

In the southern Sahara Desert, north of Abalak, Niger, the Wodaabe people hold an annual ceremony called the Gerewol Festival. And it's the best version of speed dating on Earth.

A Wodaabe man wearing makeup at sunrise for the Gerewol Festival in Niger.
Photograph by Steve Bloom / Via stevebloomphoto.com

A Wodaabe man wearing makeup at sunrise for the Gerewol Festival in Niger.

What makes the Gerewol Festival so great is that it's matriarchal in nature: The women are in charge. "It's the most wonderful beauty contest where the men make themselves as attractive as possible," photographer Steve Bloom explained to the BBC.

Wodaabe men performing for the tribeswomen.
Photograph by Steve Bloom / Via stevebloomphoto.com

Wodaabe men performing for the tribeswomen.

"They put on elaborate makeup, they open their eyes as wide as they can, they make their teeth as white as they can, and they take part in a dance," Bloom said. "And the women come out and choose the most attractive man."

Photograph by Steve Bloom / Via stevebloomphoto.com

Nobody dares call the Wodaabe unmanly for taking part in the ceremony. "These are macho warriors in Africa who are fighting men and there's this complete transformation where they make themselves as beautiful as possible," Bloom said.

Wodaabe man looking in a mirror during the Gerewol Festival.
Photograph by Steve Bloom / Via stevebloomphoto.com

Wodaabe man looking in a mirror during the Gerewol Festival.

"Symmetry is very important in the makeup," Bloom said. "They're trying to get perfect symmetry and often have to dance for hours for end, in incredible Saharan heat."

A Wodaabe tribesman preparing for the Gerewol Festival with his camel.
Photograph by Steve Bloom / Via stevebloomphoto.com

A Wodaabe tribesman preparing for the Gerewol Festival with his camel.

You can listen to the full BBC interview and see clips of the Wodaabe men dancing here:

View this video on YouTube

BBC World Service / Via youtube.com
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