Dance is a way of emoting and portraying a story, and in many cultures it holds celebratory, spiritual, and traditional values. It has been an integral part of cultures all around the world for centuries. And since then, different dances have transformed, merged, and evolved into what we know today as the most well-known genres. Today, April 29th, on International Dance Day, let’s take a tour around the world, discover the iconic dance styles, and celebrate this universal art form. From, Ballet to Belly dance and Salsa to Bharatnatyam, here are 10 of the most popular dances around the world.
1. Samba (Brazil)
The first stop on this tour around the world is Brazil, the house of Samba. Samba is derived from ‘semba’ meaning ‘invitation to dance’. Developed in the 1950s, it is a Brazilian dance form, which grew from the culture brought by African people in Brazil.
There are different variations depending on the region and the dancers typically wear colourful outfits and large headgears. This is certainly a must during carnivals and celebrations, the most well-known of which is in Rio de Janeiro or in the renowned Brazilian Rio Carnival.
Today, the infectious rhythm of Samba is regarded as the national dance of Brazil, and you truly can’t have carnival without it!
2. Salsa (Cuba)
Moving northward, let’s get to know more about the popular Salsa born in eastern Cuba. It is thought to have been created by intermingling of Spanish and African ancestry. Though the style migrated to New York city in the 1950s as a social dance form, its roots are firmly planted in the Caribbean.
It is a melting pot of styles with many variations from Son Cubano to Afro Cuban Rumba. Casino, marketed as Cuban salsa was developed in the 1950s and has inspired today’s Salsa.
3. Hip-hop (US)
Hip-hop refers to a range of street dances that developed in relation to hip-hop culture and music. It flourished as a new style performed on street, which dates back to the early 1970s in New York and California, evolving out of Funk.
Though ‘breaking’ (from the East Coast) was predominantly labelled as hip hop, the other styles like ‘locking and popping’ (from the West Coast) quickly fell under the hip-hop umbrella. Unlike other competitive dance styles, hip-hop involves improvisation and challenging each other to dance battles.
4. Step Dance (Ireland)
Image by Urbazon from Canva
We’re moving eastward and step food in Ireland: well known for its Irish step dance. Riverdance, a theatrical show back in the 1990s, featured the Iris Step dance and that popularised this dance around the world. Performed solo or in groups, the evolution of this dance was brought about by the Celts.
The complex percussive footwork is paired with a stiff upper body, allowing the audience to focus on the swift and intricate footwork. Step dance is a common sight in the local pubs or Dublin streets wherein I have witnessed the fabulous display of footwork accompanied by the traditional Irish music.
5. Flamenco (Spain)
Out of the country of Spain, emerges the captivating Flamenco. Some believe that Flamenco emerged from Andalusian gypsies who migrated to northern India and then to the southern Spain. This art form incorporates foot stomping, singing, snapping, clapping and guitar playing. The female dancer’s red billowy dress is the peculiarity of this form. Today people perform Flamenco worldwide, and it’s surprisingly popular in US and Japan.
6. Waltz (Austria)
It originates from the German word Walzer which means ‘to roll or revolve’ . Originating from the Austrian and German dances, Waltz is one of the oldest ballroom dances. It is a slow and graceful partner dance from the 19th century. Today both the faster Viennese Waltz, and the slower American and International style waltzes are extremely popular.
I’m coveting an opportunity to don a gown and twirl my way into this European world of enchantment.
7. Belly dance (Middle East)
Belly dance from the Middle East has won the hearts of audiences across the world. The first belly dancers were a group of traveling dancers known as the ghawazee. These women were considered gypsies in Egypt in the 18th century and were banished from Cairo during the 1830s.
They went on to perform in southern Egypt, Middle East and Europe. The raqs sharqi genre of belly dancing began to develop through the 1900s, adopting elements from folk dance styles, ballet, Latin dance, and even American marching bands. Later it gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s.
8. Bharatnatyam (India)
Let’s head over to Asia and discover the south Indian dance- Bharatnatyam, the dance form that fascinates me since my childhood. Bharatnatyam, regarded as mother of many Indian classical dance forms, is presumably the oldest classical dance heritage of India. It initiated in Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu and later spread across South India. It was originally reserved only for female temple dancers and from 1930s it began to be performed in public.
The dancer remains in a low squat and with excellent footwork, mesmerising expressions, and impressive gestures, portrays spiritual themes and stories from Indian mythology. I feel no dance form can approach gracefulness as closely as this one!
9. Dragon Dance (China)
In the Chinese culture, the dragon symbolises power, affluence and good luck. People use it to scare off evil spirits and bring prosperity. The performers hold the poles placed beneath the huge fabric dragon and raise and lower it in series of wavelike movements, giving the dragon the appearance of dancing. The movement with the dragon symbolises the hunt for knowledge, wisdom and truth.
Dancing dragons can vary in length and there’s an ancient belief that the longer the dragon is, the more luck it will bring. This dance is accompanied by mesmerising rhythm of cymbals, gongs and traditional Chinese drums. Today, you can see this dance in many Chinese New Year Chinatown celebrations around the world.
10. Ballet (Russia)
Our final stop as we dance around the world is Russia. No tour can be complete without exploring Ballet, as today, April 29th, celebrated as International Dance Day, also happens to be the birth anniversary of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet.
The Russian ballet developed during Italian Renaissance, before evolving in France and Russia into a concert dance. This form accompanied by classical music has many subgenres including classical, romantic and contemporary.
In the 1800s the style shifted from a male focussed form to being all about ballerinas. Tutus and pointe shoes are an integral part of the technique today. As one of the main trademarks of Russian culture, ballet has a special place in the hearts of most of the Russians. It is even studied professionally at top dance schools around the world.
Learn About New Cultures
Dance is a way to express yourself through non-verbal communication, expressions and body language. One of the most fun ways to experience a new culture is through music and dance – whether as a mere spectator, by taking a class or attending an event. You can also learn about new cultures by learning a language at SPEAK!
What are the most popular dances of your country? Inspired to try one of these? Let us know in the comments below.