Stories

Dances from around the world

November 30, 2015 by Jonathan Kelly, 2 minute read time

To some people dancing may simply be movements to the sounds of music but for many, it extends to more than just that. It’s a means of escape; an art form that allows the body to create meaning in a seemingly meaningless world and encapsulates the embodiment for all things fun. 

Dance does not select who may participate or not, it asks only that the body surrender to the impulses it feels when the music plays. Throughout the world there are dances that are synonymous with their home country and culture. These dances hold a special place in the hearts of both performers and their audience. 

Chinese Yangko dance 

With a one thousand year history, the Yangko dance of the Han Chinese has become deeply embedded in the culture. It was originally performed by simulating the movements of ploughing and sowing rice seeds in prayer  to the god of farming for a good harvest. Over the centuries it has absorbed techniques and forms from farming songs, folk songs, kung fu, acrobatics and drama. In China during New Year and the Lantern Festival, as soon as people hear the sound of drums and gongs they swarm into the streets to watch dance performances, no matter how cold it is. 

The dance is smooth and compact in its movements, featuring a happy story, abundant dance moves, exuberant gestures, and a vivid performing style that brings the tale to life. Most dancers dress in rich flamboyant traditional costumes in bright colours. Today it is not only a performing art, but also a popular activity.

People will organize Yangko dance contests and performances spontaneously whenever there is a grand festival. 

Georgian Kartuli dance 

Generally performed at weddings, the Kartuli is an elegant and romantic courtship dance, and  probably the best known dance from Georgia. Performed by a couple, the dance expresses chivalry between Georgian men and women.  It is said to ‘incorporate the softness and gracefulness of a woman as well as the dignity and love of a man’.  

During the dance, men must uphold their respect and manners by not touching the woman and maintaining a certain distance from her. Kartuli has a reputation for being difficult to learn – largely due to the focus of dancers being on each other rather than their steps. The man focuses his eyes on his partner at all times and keeps his upper body still at all times. The man must not touch the woman, not even with his coat. The female partner keeps her eyes downcast whilst gliding through her series of movements. 

The dance consists of five distinct sections: the man invites the woman to join him (symbolic of a woman leaving her household to join his), they dance together, the man dances solo, the woman dances solo, and they conclude by dancing in unison. 

Argentinian Chamamé 

Latin America is home to evocative, sultry dances like the salsa from Cuba and Puerto Rico, and samba from Brazil. They all tell their own particular story and are a means of expression. But in Argentina there is a particularly interesting example as its folk dances have been adapted by immigrants throughout the ages. Chamamé originated in the 19th century from Central European immigrants, but also has roots in Native American and African beats.  

A lot of Argentine folk music is about a gaucho sitting alone on the Pampas lamenting the loss of his woman or job or horse or all of these. Chamamé – in general – is the exception. It is a really happy, fast paced music; danced in pairs, very close together – literally, cheek to cheek. 

And this is not a folk music fading into history. Chamamé remains most popular in the region around the Ibera wetlands where it was born, but it is widely played throughout Argentina, and there are even several festivals dedicated to the music. The largest is held in the northeastern city of Corrientes at the beginning of each year. This year it was ten days long; 240 artists took part and around 13,000 people attended each night.

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