The ōtea is one of the few dances which already existed in pre-European times as a male dance. (The hura (Tahitian vernacular for hula), a dance for women, on the other hand has disappeared, and likewise is gone the couple's dance upaupa but which may have reemerged as the tāmūrē). Nowadays, however the ōtea can be danced by men (ōtea tāne), by women (ōtea vahine), or by both gender (ōtea āmui = united ō.). The dance is with music only, drums, but no singing. The drum can be one of the different types of the tōere, a laying log of wood with a longitudinal slit, which is struck by one or two sticks. Or it can be the pahu, the ancient Tahitian, standing drum covered with a shark skin and struck by the hands or with sticks. The rhythm from the tōere is fast, from the pahu it is slower. A smaller drum, the faatētē can also be used.
The dancers make gestures, reenacting daily occupations of life. For the men the themes can be chosen from warfare or sailing, and then they may use spears or paddles. For women the themes are closer to home or from nature, combing their hair, or the flight of a butterfly for example. But also more elaborate themes can be chosen, for example one where the dancers end up in a map of Tahiti, highlighting important places. In a proper ōtea the story of the theme should pervade the whole dance.
The ōtea is considered as Tahiti's best and most spectacular dance, maybe even of whole Polynesia. Especially the costumes are extremely elaborate. Of course the same more dress and the same shaking of the knees for the boys and those of the hips for the girls as in all Tahitian dances (see tāmūrē) is used here too.