You’ve probably seen your share of TikTok dances, and we admit some of them are fun and energetic. Yet, there are also ones that are a bit cringy or have the same old moves. So if you are looking for something different, there are reams of cultural dances around the world with rich histories behind them.
Many of them are older than the common dance styles seen in the United States. In many Americans towns, dance performances often focus on styles generally seen in studios – like ballet, tap and jazz.
Of these three, ballet is the oldest. It stems from the Italian word ballare, meaning to dance, and its history is traced back to about 1500. At that time it had restrictive movements because of bulky costumes. Therefore, it has little semblance to the dance that we see today.
Tap and jazz have more recent history – originating in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. These styles are based on cultural influences, such as African percussive dancing, clogging, and Irish jigging.
You can travel the world to see some of these influences and more. Here is a look at other dance forms that you may see while on the road:
There are many forms of fire dancing. The most well known are the ones that began in Polynesia, particularly Tahiti and Samoa, and then spread to places like Hawaii.
Some of them are quite acrobatic and involve dancers swinging around items like a rope with weighted balls on the end that are on fire. A number of these performances are war dances and others are graceful. There’s also a version that is a bit comical too. The Fa’ataupati or Samoan Slap Dance began as a way to shoo away mosquitoes and sometimes is used to add humor.
Less commonly known fire dances include one that’s practiced by the Pa Then ethnic group in northern Vietnam. This dance is meant to exorcize demons and pray for a bountiful harvest. For them, fire is considered a supreme god that brings good luck.
The dance was banned by the communist government in the 1960s and 1970s since it was deemed superstitious. It later returned and is now considered an important part of the culture.
This fire dance requires the performers to jump into the fire and walk on hot coals. It is said the spirits protect them.
This is a Filipino folk dance that utilizes bamboo poles that are moved and tapped along the ground as dancers step over and between them. The movement of the poles can get more intricate as the dance progresses and the tempo increases. During the dance, there are moments when the performers may hold hands, requiring them to dance in coordination.
The dance originated on the island of Visayas and is said to imitate the movement of tikling birds as they run over branches and dodge bamboo traps. According to legend, the dance also has another origin. It is said that it began when the King of Spain ordered indigenous locals to work on lands overtaken by Spanish occupation.
Locals who disobeyed orders would have to stand between bamboo poles that were clapped together to hit their feet. They learned to jump to avoid the poles. Today this art form is the Philippines national dance.
Merengue and Bachata
The merengue is the Dominican Republic’s national dance. It has Spanish and African influences and is based on a repeating five-beat rhythmic pattern.
The bachata is a style of dance that originated in the DR and is popular because of its relatively easy footwork. It includes basic steps and taps, along with some Cuban hip motion. This is a dance that is relatively easy for travelers to try.
Merengue and salsa are commonly performed in Costa Rica, but the nation’s most popular traditional dance is the punto guanacasteco. It reflects traditional rites of courtship and is an example of dance that utilizes vibrant colors to draw in the audience.
The female dancers flair their skirts and the men wave hats and bright scarves as they dance around the room.
Traditional Lotus and Fan Dances
These dances also utilize bright colors and are beautiful displays of grace and often spirituality. The lotus is important in many Asian cultures and symbolizes divine birth.
In Buddhism people are an unopened lotus until they develop the virtues of Buddhism that allow them to bloom.
In Vietnam, the lotus is also the national flower and is a symbol of purity and optimism for the future.
Traditional fan dances are also popular in Vietnam, along with China, South Korea and other countries. In China, fan dancing is often used to pass down stories and traditions.
In Fiji, traditional performances called meke have been a large part of the culture for centuries. The art form often includes singing, dancing and the playing of instruments, such as bamboo tubes called derua.
The men wear warrior outfits and the women don traditional skirts and tops. Some versions of meke utilize spears and fans.
There are a number of versions of meke. They include rituals associated with birth and death. There also are some that are celebratory, entertaining, and even comical. Generally though the performances are spiritual.
It is said that deities taught the lyrics and dances, and some versions are meant to appease the spirits or ask for their blessing or protection.
This is traditional dance and drama in Thailand that features elaborate costumes and was performed by men in the royal court. Today it includes female performers.
Khon is based on Ramakien, which is the Thai adaptation of Indian Hindu epic Ramayana. The story centers on Rama who spends 14 years in exile after being banished by his stepmother.
The characters in the performance are heroes, heroines, ogres, and monkeys, including the monkey warrior Hanuman.
Taskiwin is a martial arts dance of the Amazigh indigenous people in Morocco. It is recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The name of the dance stems from the name of the powder horn worn on the dancers’ left shoulders, called a tiskt. The dance requires about 20 men and is a theatrical production with acts.
During the performance, the men vibrate their shoulders in sync with the rhythm of tambourines and move in steps that are sometimes frenzied.
This is an old-style hula dance travelers may see in Hawaii. It is accompanied by traditional instruments, which may include seed-filled gourds, bamboo sticks, and pahu drums.
Originally the hula was a spiritual dance meant to honor gods or praise chiefs. It was modified by missionaries who compelled the women to replace their hula skirts with long dresses. Later visitors to the islands introduced other instrumentation to the dance performances, such as a small guitar that was used to develop the ukulele.
These are just some of the many dances from around the world. While traveling, take the time to watch community dances to see more.
Mary is the Lead Editor at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.