Dance has been around from time immemorial in almost all regions of the world where people synchronised their body on music and tunes for various reasons. People have used dance to express emotions, strengthen social interaction or promote their culture. Sometimes, it is a spiritual performance and sometimes it expresses ideas or tells a story. Whichever way it is done, dance has no doubt been entertaining for the person who does it and also for the people who watch it.
In our part of the world, dance has not been as promoted on the professional level as it is in other parts of the world, yet it is popular in parties, family gatherings and weddings, especially the dholki in which people from both the groom’s and the bride’s sides and show off their dance skills. Undoubtedly dance is an art form that is amazing, thrilling and captivating.
And as there are thousands of dance styles, some cultural and traditional, while some national or official of the countries, it is literally not possible to write about all of them, hence the following is a compilation of some famous dance styles that have made it to the world stage in not only dance competitions, but are also popular locally.
Origin: Germany. Most of you have seen waltz in movies. It is a graceful, slow two-person dance, who turn rhythmically round and round on the dance floor. Waltz represents the gold standard in dances, thus considered as the ‘mother of present day dances’ and the ‘backbone dance’ of the ballrooms around the world.
Peasants in the 13th century in Germany are considered to be the originators of waltz. Their rolling folk dance was quite different from all other dances popular at that time. The dance was filled with rolls, glides and turns. It was received very well and by the 1500s it reached Italy (Volta) where it merged with styles of other local dances.
Vienna embraced waltz by the end of the 16th century and morphed it into a dance called weller, and France used the form called nizzarda.
Origin: North India. Kathak is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘katha’ which means ‘story’ and is one of the ten major forms of Indian classical dances. The origin of kathak is traditionally attributed to the travelling bards of ancient northern India, known as kathakars or storytellers. From the 16th century onwards, it absorbed certain features of Persian and central Asian dancing styles.
Kathak is narrative in form and complicated. Usually every step and movement of hands, fingers, eyes, even the eyebrow has a meaning to it. But the main focus is on the footwork of the dancer. The movements are skilfully controlled, balanced and focused by dancers wearing the ankle bells (ghunghroo) as they tell a story.
Break-dance (b-boying/b-girling )
Origin: South Bronx (USA). This dance style is a sub-branch of hip hop and began in New York City in the 70s, and later popularised by the king of pop, Michael Jackson. The dance consists of four primary elements: top rock, down rock, power moves and freezes/suicides. It is quite acrobatic with the elements of gymnastics and robotics in it.
Break-dance is all about strength, skill, balance and technique, among many other things. A practitioner of this dance is called a b-boy, b-girl, or breaker. These terms are preferred by majority of the pioneers and most notable practitioners.
Hip-hop and funk
Origin: South Bronx, USA. This mixture of various street dancing styles originated in the African-American economically depressed South Bronx region of New York City in the late 70s. It refers to street dance styles, the various moves that kids or teens mixed up to perform on hip-hop music and which evolved as part of hip-hop culture. The wide range of styles includes breaking, locking and popping.
After gaining popularity and exposure in media, movies and television programmes, hip-hop dancing found a great foothold in the US, France, UK and South Korea in the 1970s. A very similar style called funk was also created during the same time, but the main difference between both was that funk involved musicians playing instruments and creating original compositions, whereas hip-hop is primarily based on existing melodies as a background for its songs and dance.
Origin: Brazil. It is a dance disguised in martial arts or martial arts disguised in dance! It is astounding, astonishing and fascinating, among many others adjectives. Capoeira was first created during the 16th century by slaves from West Africa in Brazil. The slaves were prohibited from celebrating their cultural customs and strictly forbidden from practicing any martial arts or even physical exercise, thus capoeira emerged as a way to bypass these imposing laws.
Hidden in the musical and rhythmical elements of the form, violent kicks were disguised as passionate dance movements and its combination of a mixture of West African cultures saved it from being identified as an attempt to preserve any specific tradition.
With the abolishment of slavery in 1888, many newly-freed citizens found themselves without home and income, creating widespread poverty and exploding crime, so capoeira was one of the many weapons used by the criminal elements. Consequentially, it was outlawed nationally in 1890, and those seen practicing it suffered severe consequences.
After many years of struggle, Mestre Bimba from Salvador, rekindled the popularity of this art form, and successfully convinced Brazilian authorities about the cultural value of capoeira; thus resulting in the lifting of official ban on the capoeira in 1940s. Today, capoeira is a cultural icon of Brazil, and it is widely practiced around the world.
Origin: India and Pakistan. Bhangra is now the most popular dance style around the world performed during celebrations by people belonging to the Subcontinent region. It originated from the Punjab region of colonial India. It is believed that this folk style was initially used to celebrate and welcome spring and also a successful harvest.
Bhangra was popularised mainly by the Sikh community and the lyrics are usually sung in the Punjabi language and related to social and cultural issues such as marriage, harvest, love, seasons, etc.
Bhangra encompasses a large number of sub-genres such as dhamal, jhumar, daankara, luddi, giddha, julli, gatka, saami and kikli. All these sub-genres follow different dance formats and together they combine to form an all-round view of original bhangra.
Origin: Spain. Flamenco is an expressive dance developed from the province of Andalusia in Spain. Historically, it has always been the musical outlet of the poor and oppressed. The songs in Andalusia expressed both the blessings as well as hardships of daily life.
Flamenco is a tripartite art, involving singing, dancing and the guitar simultaneously, as well as rhythmic punctuation by hand-claps and various rhythmic moves.
Origin: Bohemia. The polka is a Central European dance of bohemian folk origin. It is believed that polka was invented by a peasant girl, Anna Slezak, in 1834 and witnessed by music teacher Joseph Neruba. Anna danced on the folk song “Strycek Nimra Koupil Simla (Uncle Nimra brought a white horse).” The little girl Anna named her quick and lively steps ‘Madera’.
While seeing the possibilities of the improved dance style and the possibility of making money, Neruba took it to Prague in 1835, where it was supposedly dubbed the pulka (meaning a half,) and later on went to Vienna in 1839 by a music band from Prague under the leadership of Pergier.
The polka was the second ‘closed position’ couples dance to be introduced to the world, with the first being waltz. The dance was first introduced into the ballrooms of France in 1843.
Origin: China. The Yangko is a folk dance of China and a popular part of their culture. It involves swaying of the body to certain rhythms. It dates back a thousand years and is usually performed in the Lantern Festival.
Yangko has changed since its inception and the one that we see today started in the late 1940s.
Cossack (Also gopak/hopak)
Origin: Ukraine. Hopak means ‘to leap and stamp one’s feet.’ It is considered the official dance of Ukraine and is composed of visually amazing acrobatic feats. Men competitively improvise steps, high leaps, squatting kicks, stretches on the ground and in the air, various spins and turns, while female movements are quick steps, bends, simple steps, sway, clap or circle.
During the 16th century, the hopak started as a male dance at the Zaporozhian Sich, Ukraine, and gradually spread throughout the country. As it spread, it became transformed into a group dance performed by couples with males retaining the lead role. It has several variants: a solo dance, a group and couple dance, and in Western Ukraine it is performed as a circular dance called hopak-kolo. Its charm and attractiveness lie in the hopak’s freedom of improvisation, which allows individual dancers to display their talents within a larger dance group.
Origin: Italy — Russia. Ballet is a performance dance and originated in Italy during the 15th century. It developed in France and Russia, and evolved from performance dance to concert dance. The style is aesthetic in nature but it is a very complicated form of dancing. What makes the ballet different from others is that it involves ‘pointe work’, (to stand on the tip of the toe) perfect flow, focussed and very precise acrobatic movements.
The difficulty lies in the ‘pointe’ which needs months, and sometimes years, of practice to reach the perfect balance to stand on the toes.
Origin: Fused (Irish, African, American, Juba). You may have seen tap dance in cartoons and movies when dancers follow a rhythm by taping their shoes on the floor. Tap dance is characterised by a tapping sound that is created from metal plates attached to both the toe and the heel of the shoe. These metal plates, when tapped against a hard surface, create a percussive sound and as such the dancers are considered to be musicians for their own movement. The dance requires special shoes for tapping.
Tap dance has roots in African-American dancing such as the juba dance, English Lancashire clog dancing, and probably most notably Irish step dancing.
Published in Dawn, Young World, September 17th, 2016