Ethnic or Folk Dancing: Country Styles

There are many different styles of ethnic or folk dancing. Many are national styles like Irish or Scottish step dancing. Others deal with styles which represent only one style within a country, or a style of only one group within a country. Some countries like the United States or old Soviet Union are multi-ethnic. Generally within an ethnic group there is only one major style of folk dance. Some of the national syles such as Irish dancing may be persued in many different countries because of the emigration of Irish and other peoples to other countries. HBC has compiled information on many of these different etnic or folk styles. We would of coirse be very interested in reader contributions to expand the range of ethnic dance styles currently covered. Some of the different forms of ethnic dance include:

Africa

We know very little about African dance at this time. Dance seems to have been important in tribal Africa before the comong of the Europeans in the 19th century. Dance was important in both tribl ritual and myth as well as for aesthetic and emotional reasons. Tribes had all kinds of traditional dances. Unfortunately at this time we have no information on the different kinds of dances or the variations among tribes. European colonialism weakened tribal society and may have affected the importance and prestige of dance and other tribal rituals. Missionarides preached against many traditions. And African dance looked very hedonistic and cult-like to many missionaries. Another factor is probably urbanization which also weakened tribal traditions. Urban Africans are more exposed to European culture and thus tribal traditions like dance have been weakened. Some African elites may see traditional African dance as backward. Here there seems gto be some difference in opinion. We note since South Africa ended Apartheid that some individual schools have begun to promote tribal dance as a way of promoting traditions.

American, Latin

We do not know much about folk daning in Latin America. Hopefully some of our Latin Americam readers will have some insights. The dancing we have seen looks more related to Spanihthn Native American styles. The costuming seems basically Spanish colonial styles. The gils wears elaborate swirling dresses. The boys in contrast wear plain, white compesino outfits. There does not seem to be a lot of variety among countries, although much of out information comes from the former Spanish colonies. An example is Colombian traditional dance. we know very little about Brazil and the Caribbean.

American, North


Native American Dance

No other event captures the American Indian spirit like the powwow or 'wacipi'. Dancers in colorful dress move gracefully around the ring, a steady drum beat directing their movements. Tradition is passed from one generation to the next. Today's powwows often feature competitions in categories such as traditional, fancy, grass, shawl, and jingle-dress dancing. Entrants wear different styles of clothing according to the dance. While a fancy dancer dons bustles and beads, a shawl dancer wears a long-fringed shawl over an elaborately beaded dress, moccassins, and leggings.

American Western Square Dance

Square dancing has been America's "official national folk dance" since President Reagan signed an act of Congress in 1982 (U.S. Statutes). Most Americans, however, would likely never be caught dead square dancing -- too embarrassing, they might say. Such is generally true of folk customs--they are not popular. Thus it remains a dance that few have really tried, particularly as adults. But dedicated square dancers just ignore the negative quips and enthusiastically continue with their Do-si-do's, Spin Chain the Gears, and Ferris Wheels.

Asia


Central Asian dance

We do not know a great deal about Central Asian dances, but believe it was a popular traditional art form. We have little information about it practice in ancient socities. Perhasps some of our readers will have some information. We do note two surviving foems. One is the dancing boys in Western Asia, especially in Pashtun areas. Another surviving form msy be the Turkish whirling dervishes.

Japanese Traditional Dancing

We know virtually nothing about Japanese dance at this time. It seems to be performed nore by girls and women, but we may be mistaken by this. Our information is very limited at this time. Hopefully our Japanese readers will provide us some information. We do notice boys involved in dance at some of the festivals. In particular we notice boys performing the traditional Lion Dance. It is not just for boys, but boys can be involved. It appears like so many Japanese traditins to be a fussion of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. Elaborate costumes are involved.

Sri Lankan dance

Sri Lankan traditional dances have ancient animist origins and jave been influenced by Buddhist and Hindu culture influences. Dancing patterns are varying from region to region of Sri Lanka and they are known as Kandyan dances, Sabaragamuwa dances, low-country dances, devil dances etc. and some of these dances can be sub-categorized further. Since there is an influence of Hindu culture, some parts of dances are restricted to boys/men because according to some Hindu beliefs, some activities should not be performed by girls/women. This quality can be seen in the festival of the “Temple of Tooth” in Kandy. But nowadays girls also perform some parts in their schools as a part of their education. The costumes vary based on the type of the dance, but there cannot be identified major differences among Kandyan and Sabaragamuwa dances. The image here is a Kandyan dance and it is the most popular traditional dance in Sri Lanka (figure 1). In devil dances, the dances are performed by the artists by putting different kind of masks and it also used as a treatment for diseases caused by “Unseen Hands”. When talking about costumes in Kandyan dances, the main part is the head-dress. The chest is covered by only decorative beaded net. For bottom part they using an elaborative piece of white cloth and this is known as “Ves” costume. Addition to that they wear different kinds of jewelery. The head-dress is only worn by qualified artists and the others only wear a cowl made by a cloth as illustrated here (figure 1). Currently traditional dancing is a very interesting subject among school children, especially among boys from ages 8-10 years of age and above. In Kandyan dances, boys are qualified to wear head-dress after they develop their skills to the satidfaction of their masters. Girls are also learning some parts of dances and they perform in some festivals for entertainment purposes.

Uzbek Dance

A HBC reader has provided some information about dance and song in Usbekistan and parts of Turkestan and North Afghanistan among the Uzbeks and other peoples of central Asia. Boys might be sent by their fathers to become dancers. Boys were normally sent at ages 12-16, but there were bos as old as 18 years of age. They are reported from late 19th century on by Western and Soviet travellers. They were thaught by masters and there would be bets to them in an event called bacabozlic (boy game) from the male audience. Although it was officially not allowed a quarter to a half of the male population visited by Baldauf took part in it. The boys songs dealt with love (there were different versions during performance and aggressive ones). One author believes this was because boys couldn't cope beeing dressed up like girls. [Bladauf]. These dancing boys were last reported in northern Afghanistan during the 1970s.

Europe


Basque dance

The Basque country emcompasses areas of both southern France and norther Spain. The Basque people are of ancient derivation, their language is not a Romanse language related to Latin like Spanish and French. We have noted references to Basque folk dancing, but know little about it. There is, for example, a Basque dancing group performing traditional dances from Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque country. In the group, there is about 20 to 30 people with both amateur dancers and professional musicians. The group has existed for nearly 50 years and it is well known in our region. We have no details about the dancing or costuming at this time. Presumably there are similar groups in Spain.

Cossack dancing


English dance

HBC knows little about English folk dancing. We notice that during the 1950s some schools had dancing teams for English and other national folk dancing. This was in part supported by the Ford Foundation. We do not know hoe common it was. One suchbschool was the Park Secondary School which had teams for English, Polish, and perhaps other ethnix folk dancing. HBC is unaware of much destinctive English folk costume. We have seen Mummers plays and Morris dancing in which white or cream colored smocks are often worn, presumably harkening back to the smocks worn by rural workers in the early 19th century. Mumers plays during Easter often used liturgically based colored smocks. [Peter Millington, "Mystery History: The Origins of British Mummers' Plays," American Morris Newsletter, Nov./Dec. 1989, Vol.13, No.3, pp.9-16.] Unlike some of the continental folk costumes, children are not commonly involved in the Morris dancing.


Figure 1.--These boys are doing German folk dances in a street festival. The photo was taken in Munich where the boys attend a dance school. Note the checked red shirts. This is a common dance costume with lederhosen, but it not a historical costume. These checked shirts were never worn by German boys until after World War II. A German reader points out, "The boys here are dancing a Bavarian folk dance, not a German one. You wouldn't see that outside Bavaria."

German dance

Everyone is familiar with German polka and ump-pa-pah bands and associated dancing. The dancers normally perform in costume--usually lederhosen outfits. Unfortunately HBC has very little information about German folk dancing. We are not sure about the style of dancing involved. Hopefuly our German readers will provide us some information about national folk dancing. Generally the participants are Germans or ethnic Germans in other counries. It is of course a popular activity at October Fest celebrations. We have noted an English school which established a Schuplattlergruppe as part of the German language program.

Gypsey dance

We know nothing about gypsey dance and music at this time. We do know that gypsey music has influenced some important Austrian and Hungarian composers. HBC readers may have some more detailed insights on this. We do not know if gypsey dance has been influential. We have noted several images of European children in gypsey folk dress. These wre not photogtaphs of gypsey childre, but rather other Europan children dressed up in novelyu outfits. This seems to have been mist common in Austria, Germany, and Hungary. Almost all the images we have noted are pre-World war I. This becomes much less common after the War as along with the rise of Fascism, concepts of nationality and race become more hardened. Most of the images we have seen are simple costume portraits, but we have found some which deal with dance.

Greek dance

Since the early 20th century, Greeks started to organize dancing clubs in order to teach the traditional folk dances to the new generation. The oldest and most important club that started to teach folk dances to groups of boys and girls is the Lyceum Club of Greek Women (Lykeio Ellinidon), a non-profit organization, founded in 1910. Within past 30 years more organizations started funding dancing clubs in order to teach their children dancing. These organizations include the Athens and Thessaloniki branches of YMCA (known by the Greek initials XAN), the municipalities and the workers unions etc. A kilt-like costume was worn mainly in the central and southern regions of Greece. The costume derives its name from the pleated white skirt (foustanela) made of many triangular shaped pieces of cloth sewn together diagonally. The foustanela was worn by the Greek fighters of the 1821 revolution and today it serves as the official uniform of the Evzones, Greece’s Presidential Guard, who can be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. The foustanela skirt consists of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. The remainder of the costume is composed of a white shirt with very wide flowing sleeves, an embroidered woolen vest, a sash worn around the waist, and shoes (tsarouhia) with large pompons.

Irish step dance

Irish dance has developed quietly in Ireland for centuries. Irish immigrants brought their traditional dances to America beginning in the 1840s, driven from their homeland by the Great Famine. Their dances had a profound influence on traditional American folk dances like square dancing and their music was a powerful ingredient in country music. Modern Irish dance, however did not begin to become popular until after World War II. The independence of Ireland in 1921, rising income levels after the War, and the increasing interest in Irish heritage by Irish Americans all contributed to the expanding interest in Irish dance. This interest was almost entirely within the Irish community until River Dance introduced Irish dancing to the public at large in the 1990.

Scottish Highland Dance

Higland dancing along with the kilt are two beloved symbols of Scotland. Its origins lie in the art of the ancient Celtic Scots. Modern Higland dancing is usually performed solo and is characterized by its typically sharp movements and the accompanying music. It's typically dance to the tune of the bagpipes. The dances are made up of different parts, called steps. There are usually four or six steps to a dance. Traditional Highland Dancing generally refers to a relatively few dances, especially the Highland Fling, Sword Dance, Seann Truibhas, and the Strathspey and Highland Reel or Reel of Tulloch. The basic movements in Higland dance are both strong and graceful. The hands are used expresively, quite different from the traditional dance of the neigboring Celtic people, the Irish. Highland dance was traditionally performed by Scottish men. Highland dancing is now performed by both men and women.

Polish Dance

We know little about Polish gfolk dancing. At his time we know nothing about folish folk dancing in Poland. Until 1919, Poland was under te control of Austria, Germany, and Russia. The language, culture, and other national aspirations were supressed to varying degrees by those empires. We are not sure to what extent this extended to folk culture like dancing. After 1919 the Polish government presumably promoted folk culture like dancing, but again we have few details. Hopefully one of our Polish readers will provide us some bavkground information. We do not know, for example, if there were school programs. Much of the limited information we have comes from Polish dance groups in the various countries to which Poles have migrated such as Australia, Canada, and the United States.


Figure 2.--Here we see two Russian boys in 2004 that performed in a folk dancing troupe. I'm not sure if the patterns on their blouses or traditional or modren creations.

Russian dance

We know very little about Russian folk dancing at this time. We have no information on the histotical origins of Russian folk dancing. The very limited number of Russian folk dances we have observed look to us like Cossack dancing with the male dancers keeping theor hands on their waist. We are not sure, however, if this is a style that the Cossacks inherited from Russian peasants or Russian pessants inherited from the Cossacks. We think Gypsey dancing is another influence. Another source mentions Klezmer dancing, a style of Jewish instrumental music. We also note references to Ukraine dancing. We have no idea at this time as differences between Russian and Ukranian dance. Folk dance can represent aspects of daily life. A good example here is “Troika,” a popular Russian folk dance. Here three dancers represent horses pulling a troika (sleigh). Dancers performing Russian dances normally dress in brightly colored costumes losely based on Russian peasant costumes. Hopefully our Russian readers will be able to tell us more about folk dancing in their country.

Soviet dance

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was composed of 16 constituent repunlics andbmany more natioanlities and linguistic groups. Each of these groups had thaeir own customs and traditins, including folk dance and song. We have little information on the various folk dances, but we note that they were commonly staged at Young Pioneer camps. Since the disolution of the Soviet these dances are now practiced in the indivudual independent countries, although the Young Pioneers no longer exist.

Welsh dance

We know very little about Welsh dancing. We know nothing about medieval Welsh dancing. The growing importance of Non-conformist sects in the 18th and 19th centuries adversely affected traditioinal dance forms. Church leaders saw dance in general as well as other forms of Welsh folk arts and customs as essentially sinful. Religious leaders set out to stamp out sinful Welsh practices and traditional damcing was one of the activities considered the most sinful. To a large extent they were successful, but written records survived as well as dances which were adopted outside Wales. Welsh folk dancing and other aspects of Welsch folk culture by the beginning of the 20th century was no longer an important part of Welsh life. Only gradually did an interest develop in reviving lost Welsh folk traditions. After World War II, enthusiasts founded the Welsh Folk Dance Society (1949). There are now several adult folk dancing teams active in Wales and many children's groups in Welsh schools.

Unknown Ethnic Dancers

We have noted some images of ethnic dancers that we can not identify. The number of countries and minority groups within countries is substantial just in Europe. Thus the number of different ethnic dance styles is very substantial just in Europe alone. The number world wide is very substantial. Hoefully readers will provide information on ethnic dancing in their countries and help us identify the country or ethnic group involved in the images we have found.







HBC





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