Dance has been part of our culture for thousands of years. There are many forms of dance performed all over the world today, from ballet to ballroom and salsa to street. Most of the dancing we now see is about recreation and self-expression, and it’s also an enjoyable way for people of all ages, shapes and sizes to stay fit and healthy.
International Dance Day is celebrated on 29th April every year on the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet. The intention of the International Dance Day Message is to celebrate dance, revel in the universality of this art form, cross all political, cultural and ethnic barriers, and bring people together with a common language - dance. This article will explore the different types of dance, with a look at how they’ve evolved into the well-known dance genres we know today.
What role does dance play in our society?
Dance has always been a part of human culture, rituals and celebrations. It’s an amazing art form that promotes creativity, as well as healthy minds and bodies. There are three main roles of dance in society today. These include:
- Ceremonial dance: These are dances created or performed for rituals or celebrations. Ceremonial dance is used all over the world for worship, or to celebrate life events. The unique British tradition of Morris dancing, for example, is performed at seasonal festivals and holidays to banish the dark of winter, celebrate the warmth and fertility of summer, and bring in autumn's golden harvest. The category of ceremonial dance also includes classical Indian dances, war dance, corroboree, Căluşari, and dances of Native American and West African culture.
- Dance for recreation: This is any form of dance that is for entertainment, fitness or fun. Also known as social dancing, it uses dance without too much structure, as a way to let loose and express your own individual personality. The goal is for dancers to focus less on form and technique and more on the joy they feel from dancing. Examples of recreational dance include ballroom, line dancing, aerobic dance, or dance as a hobby.
- Artistic expression: This is dance created with the intent to express or communicate emotion, feelings and ideas. It’s usually performed in a concert or theatrical setting to an audience, and includes forms such as ballet, tap dance and modern dance. It uses rhythmic, partterened, or improvised body movement, and it’s one of the oldest art forms found in every culture around the world.
Dance is the same in any language. It’s a way to express yourself through non-verbal communication; through facial expressions, posture and body language. This makes dance a truly universal art form which is used to tell stories and share ideas. It breaks down language barriers and open doors for communication across different cultures.
What are the health benefits of dancing?
Dancing is a great way to get fit and stay healthy. People of any age and ability can use dance to improve fitness, muscle tone, strength and endurance, and it’s a great way to make new friends too. Here are some of the physical and mental benefits that can be associated with dancing:
- Healthier heart and lungs
- Improved muscle tone and strength
- Increased endurance and aerobic fitness
- Better coordination, agility and flexibility
- Improved balance and spatial awareness
- Stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Greater self-confidence and self-esteem
- Weight management
- Better social skills
Dance can also help to increase circulation, decrease blood pressure, reduce stress, and it can also help develop gross motor skills in children.
What are the different types of dance?
There are many many different types of dance which are performed all over the world. Over the years, different dances have changed, merged and evolved to create the genres we know today. And each genre can be broken down into further subgenres. Let’s take a look at where some of the most popular types of dance originated, and how each plays a part in modern culture.
Originating in 16th century France, ballroom dancing is the name given to a set of partner dances, which are enjoyed both socially and competitively around the world. The term ballroom comes from the Latin and Italian words, “ballare” and “room,” which referred to the dance hall. Subsequently, the word “ballroom” came to refer to both the hall and the activity.
In 1650, the Minuet was introduced to Paris, set to music by composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. It was danced by King Louis XIV in public, and so the Minuet dominated the ballroom until the end of the 18th century. Ballroom dance was introduced in England as German waltz in 1812, and it became popular with the upper and elite classes of society in balls and parties. Ballroom dancing flourished in the 20th century along with the jazz era and big band. In 1995, ballroom dancing became an Olympic sport, encouraging many people to enter into dancesport. And a number of well-known television shows have helped to introduce the genre to a new generation.
Different types of ballroom dance include:
A slow and graceful partner dance introduced in the mid-19th century, it was greatly popularised by the music of famous composer Johann Strauss. Today, the waltz is the most famous dance in ballrooms around the world.
2. Viennese Waltz
This is the name given to the original form of waltz, first performed at the Italian courts. It’s much faster than the more famous “English Slow Waltz”, and it was the first genre of dance to introduce “closed hold” between performers.
This incredibly rhythmic dance is of Cuban origin, and it is danced to the music of the same name, introduced by Cuban composer and violinist Enrique Jorrin in the early 1950’s. The name comes from the shuffling sound of the dancers’ feet when they dance two consecutive quick steps that characterise the dance.
Originating in the 1880’s along the Río de la Plata—the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay—tango is a partner dance which was born in the poverty-stricken port areas, in neighbourhoods which had predominantly African descendants. Today, it’s recognised for its sensual and energetic style.
Since its creation in the 1930’s, many types of rumba have been created, most famously Cuban Rumba, Catalan Rumba, Flamenco Rumba and African Rumba. The dance focuses on sensual hip movements, and when it came to England, the anglicised spelling "rhumba" became widely used to distinguish this ballroom dance from traditional Cuban rumba.
This up-tempo dance appeared in Cuba in the late 1930’s, accompanied by the music of the same name. And by 1950 it had taken the Latin dance world by storm, replacing rumba in the United States, as the most fashionable Latin Dance.
Developed in the 1950’s, samba is a famous dance and musical genre that emerged when people were transported to Brazil from Africa to work as slaves in the mines and sugar plantations. They brought aspects of their musical culture with them. Today, the infectious rhythm of samba is regarded as the national dance of Brazil.
One of the most popular Latin dances, and one of the liveliest, the jive consists of lots of hip rocking and knee movements. The dance style originated in the United States from African-Americans in the early 1930’s, and its official ballroom variation was formalized in the 90’s.
Light-hearted and fast-paced, the quickstep is one of the most popular ballroom dances around the world today. This powerful dance style was originally developed in the 1920’s in New York City and was first danced by Caribbean and African dancers. Its origins are a combination of slow foxtrot combined with the Charleston, and the glamorous version that is dance today was standardised in 1927.
Professional Performance Dance
Also known as theatre dance, performance dance is usually choreographed and performed to set music. It’s generally performed for an audience in a theatre setting, and it was first introduced in the early years of Italian Renaissance when music, dance, arts and poetry started to rise in popularity.
Refined by the efforts of France and Russia, ballet became the premier technical concert dance in the 1500’s, and it’s considered one of the most complicated and most admired dances of all time. But up until 1681, women were not allowed to perform in ballet. Instead, men would dress up to take on female roles until Marie Camargo became the first woman to dance in a ballet. In more recent times, many other professional dances came to be, including Contemporary dance, Concert dance and Modern dance, though ballet remains the most popular for its heritage, complexity and how physically demanding it is.
Different types of professional performance dance include:
One of the most technical and famous of all performance dances, ballet is popular all around the world. It was originally created in 15th century Renaissance Italy, but it soon became popular in countries such as France and Russia. There are four different types of ballet taught and performed around the world today. These include: Classical, Neoclassical, Contemporary and Romantic, the most widely known and performed ballet style.
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11. Contemporary Dance
This highly complicated type of modern performance dance originated in the mid-20th century, taking elements of classical dance styles (such as ballet), modern styles and jazz dance. Contemporary dance often combines the strong, controlled legwork of ballet, with floor work, and improvisation characteristics of modern dance.
12. Modern Dance
This influential performance dance emerged as a reaction against the classical ballet and its movement style. Developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, modern dance evolved into a popular free dance style that includes elements of performance art, release technique and improvisation.
African-American and Traditional Jazz Dance
Jazz dance is a performance dance technique and style that first became popular in the United States in the early 1900’s, though the origin of jazz dance can be traced to African rituals and celebratory dances from around the 17th century.
In 1917, jazz pianist Spencer Williams wrote a song called "Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble" which inspired a jazz dance called the shimmy. The shimmy is done by holding the body still, with the shoulders quickly alternating back and forth. The dances that emerged during this period were the Charleston and the Lindy hop. The Charleston is characterized by its “toes-in, heels-out twisting steps", and the Lindy Hop was a wild and spontaneous partner dance.
When the Great Depression began in 1929, people turned to dance as a way to have fun, with little to no cost. Swing dancing became the most popular style of dance in 1930’s and 1940’s America, and today, swing dancing styles are the foundation of many other dance styles including disco, country line dancing, and hip-hop.
Different types of jazz dance include:
This extremely popular dance type is named after the harbour city of Charleston, South Carolina. The rhythm was popularized in mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 tune called "The Charleston" by composer/pianist James P. Johnson, and it became one of the most popular hits of the decade. ‘Scandalous’ men and women shed the stuffy etiquette of their parents’ generation and wanted to flap their arms, kick up their heels and let loose – hence the term ‘flappers’.
14. Tap Dance
This popular style of dance originated in the United States in the early 19th century. Slave owners took away traditional African percussion instruments, so slaves turned to percussive dancing to express themselves and retain their cultural identities. From the 1930’s, tap dance sequences became a staple of movies and television, with tap stars including Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire, who was famous for combining tap with ballroom dance.
A form of jazz, swing developed in the United States in the 1920’s. Hundreds of styles of swing dancing were developed, with the best-known of these dances being the Lindy Hop, which originated in Harlem in the early 1930’s. While the majority of swing dances began in African-American communities, some swing-era dances, like Balboa, developed outside of these communities.
A playful and improvised partner dance, Boogie-woogie is commonly fasted paced, high energy and is famous for its spectacular footwork. A form of swing dance, it became widely popular during the 1930’s. The step variation for boogie dance is a combination of six and eight count with sharp, quick movements.
Disco dance emerged during the 1970’s, with dances like Bump, Hustle, Robot, Boogaloo and Watergate, reaching its popularity peak with the release of the blockbuster film "Saturday Night Fever." Latin dances such as the samba, cha cha, and tango inspired many of the popular disco moves. It’s said that disco music has since influenced electronic dance music and house music.
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Latin dance has a rich cultural history rooted in the traditional dances of native peoples of Latin America. These dances were heavily influenced by European colonists and African slaves from as early as the 1500’s, developing into the well-known style of Latin dance we have today.
Latin dance originated in the traditional dances of Mexico, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. And like many cultures around the world, dance was essential in communal ritual life. They were performed during festivals and rituals as a symbolic representation of cultural beliefs. Native Latin dances were very structured and organised, often involving lots of dancers moving in intricate patterns. Traditional dances symbolised events, combat and movement of workers sowing and harvesting.
Today’s popular Latin dances were developed in various cities and countries, before being modified and formalised in the U.S. and Europe by professional musicians and dance companies. Salsa, for example, has deep roots in Cuba, Columbia and Puerto Rico. The cha cha, rumba and mambo are also of Cuban origin, and the bolero originated in Spain and Cuba, before spreading to the rest of Latin America.
The origins of salsa date back to the 1900’s in Eastern Cuba, where musical elements and rhythms from various styles were combined. Cuban son and Afro-Cuban rumba used diverse musical instruments to create the basis of a rhythm that would later become known as salsa. This new rhythm was combined with American jazz and taken to New York by Cuban musicians. Today, there are two different types of salsa dance which are danced around the world: The Cuban ‘Casino’ style and the Los Angeles (L.A.) style.
This famous Spanish dance originated from the region of Andalusia almost 500 years ago, though it wasn’t given its name until the 18th century. It is a diverse dance that mixes different cultural influences such as Islamic, Andalucian, gypsy, Sephardic and Arabic. Its passionate and energetic fusion of singing, guitar playing, dance and handclaps has made it famous across the world.
This well-known partner dance originated from Para, Brazil, and became internationally popular in the 1980’s. It fuses aspects of forró, salsa, merengue, maxixe and the carimbó into a passionate dance style. It has a slow-quick-quick rhythm, and it’s distinguished from other forms of Latin dance through the wave-like motion of the dancers’ bodies, which gives the dance its name: Lambada is a Portuguese word referring to the wave-like motion of a whip.
Originally a Czech peasant dance, polka is derived from the Czech phrase for ‘half-step’, which refers to the dance pattern of stepping from one foot to the other. The polka dance was first introduced to Prague ballrooms in 1835, and to Paris ballrooms in 1840. It grew wildly popular, reaching England and the United States by the late 1840’s. Polish American immigrants adopted the polka as their national dance In the 20th century, and today, polka is one of the few dances that originated during the 19th century that is still popular worldwide.
22. Belly Dance
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 1830’s. They went on to perform in Upper Egypt, in the Middle East and Europe. The raqs sharqi genre of belly dancing began to develop through the 1900’s, adopting elements from folk dance styles, ballet, Latin dance, and even American marching bands. Belly dancing gained popularity in the United States in the 1960’s during a time when more women were becoming free spirits.
23. Country/Western Dances
The country dance style is a social dance that is closely associated with American country and its Western traditions. It encompasses many forms and styles of dance that can be performed to country-western music. Western group dances include popular line dancing and square dancing.
24. Folk Dance
Popular all around the world in hundreds of unique variations and styles, folk dances represent cultural heritage and ethnic history of people who live in a certain region or country. They are usually performed at dance gatherings with the accompaniment of traditional music of the region.
Bollywood dance originated in India in the 20th century. It’s characterized by elaborate choreographies, energetic movements, and dances that involve a large number of participants. Initially, Bollywood dancing was only common and popular in areas that watched Indian films, but today, Bollywood is celebrated all over the world.
Hip-hop & Funk Dance
Hip-hop dance began in New York City in the late 1960’s, and was inspired by the movements of African dancing. It flourished as a new style of dance performed on the street, combining aspects of modern dance, tap and swing. It’s most commonly performed to hip-hop music, and includes a variety of freestyle movements, though it’s three main styles of breaking (of the East Coast), popping and locking (of the West Coast) have led to hip-hop evolving into the highly sought-after and dominant style of dance it is today.
A very similar style called Funk was also created during the 1970’s, and is today regarded as one of the most influential pieces of hip-hop dance styles. Funk styles were created in California, and they are called funk style because they were originally danced to funk music. This differentiates them from breaking, which is traditionally danced to break beats.
Different types of hip-hop dance include:
One of the most athletic dances in the world, breakdancing became popular in the 1970’s as a street dance in New York. Since then, it has spread all around the world where it’s viewed as one of the most unique dance styles ever made. Usually danced solo, dancers perform a series of either choreographed or freeform dance and athletic movements alongside breakbeat, hip-hop or funk music.
Funk dance is incredibly diverse, and one of its famous variations is ‘locking’. This style of hip-hop dance sees the dancer suddenly stop and hold the position (or get locked) in the middle of dance routines, and then suddenly resume the dance. It requires full body motion, but most of the dance is focused on the top half of the body.
Another popular funk dance style, ‘popping’ requires dancers to master controlled and quick contrasting and relaxing of muscles that create the feeling of a jerk throughout the body. This jerk is referred to as ‘pop’ or ‘hit’ and can be used to create dance routines and movements.
How can I get started with dancing?
Feeling inspired? There are lots of places where you can enjoy dancing; at dance schools, social venues, or even in your own home. Dancing is a popular way to get fit, and dance-based classes are now available in most fitness clubs and gyms. Dancing can be done both socially and competitively. And it can be practised individually, with a partner or in groups.
Anyone of any age can take up dancing, so to get started, simply search online for a dance class near you. Or try a few online videos to get a feel for what sort of dance style you like the look of.