Folk Dance

Folk Dance is a term used by some authorities to describe a large number of dances that often to share the following feautures:-

They were originated in about the nineteenth century or earlier, or are not currently copyrighted. Their performance is dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation. They were danced by common people and not exclusively by aristocracy. At the moment there is no governing body that has final say about what “Folk Dance” is or who is authroized to teach it.

Folkdances are traditionally performed during social events by people with little or no professional training. Most country dances and ballroom dances originated from folk dances, with gradual refinement over the years. Folk dances should be part of the social fabric of the area. They sometimes evolved before current political boundaries, so that some dances are common to several countries.

The term Folk Dance can be applied to dances of historical European culture, which typically originated before the twentieth century. For other cultures the terms ethnic or traditional dance are sometimes used, although both terms may encompass ceremonial dances. However, not all ethnic dances are folk dances for example Sacred Dance would be excluded.

Folk Dance comes into existence with social and economic changes which result in a clearly defined hierachical structure in society. There are the ruling classes and the common folk. The ruling classes might well join in folk dances on occassion but it was understood by all that this was not “their” form of dance. However, court and folk dance have always mutually influenced each other.

Folk Dance takes many spatial forms:- the circle, the spiral, lthe meander, the double circle and the chain to name some of them. The dancers nearly always touch one another thus strongly linking everyone into the dance. They hold hands, place their hands on the shoulders or hips of their neighbours or they lock arms. Circular dances most commonly move in a clockwise direction.

The other common form of starting position is for the dancers to form two or more rows facing one another. Couple dances also exist. Almost all these couple dances are “open”, the participants either have no direct contact with each other or they may touch each other at the most with one hand or link by holding a corner of a scarf or hankerchief.

In general mixed dance is not found in basic cultures and is not common in tribal cultures that are predominantely masculine.

Modern street dances such as Hip Hop are not generally considered to be folk dances because these artistic expressions are living and evolving dance forms, while folk dances are to a large degree bound by tradition. Ballroom depending on the particular dance, can be considered as Folk Dance. This form comes into existence with social and economic changes which result in a clearly defined hierachical structure in society. There are the ruling classes and the common folk. The ruling classes might well join in folk dances on occassion but it was understood by all that this was not “their” form of dance. However, court and folk dance have always mutually influenced each other.

The latter takes many spatial forms:- the circle, the spiral, lthe meander, the double circle and the chain to name some of them. The dancers nearly always touch one another thus strongly linking everyone into the dance. They hold hands, place their hands on the shoulders or hips of their neighbours or they lock arms. Circular dances most commonly move in a clockwise direction.

The other common form of starting position in Folk Dance is for the dancers to form two or more rows facing one another. Couple dances also exist. Almost all these couple dances are “open”, the dancers either have no direct contact with each other or they may touch each other at the most with one handor link by holding a corner of a scarf or hankerchief.

In general mixed dance is not found in basic cultures and is not common in tribal cultures that are predominantely masculine.

Modern street dances such as Hip Hop are not generally considered to be folk dances because they are living and evolving dance forms, while folk dances are to a large degree bound by tradition. Ballroom depending on the particular form can be considered as Folk Dance.

The history of Folk Dance in the countries which make up Great Britain varies greatly. England does not have an unbroken tradition. It had almost completely died out before its revival. Victorian times saw an emphasis on couple dances adopted from the continent, for example the walz and the polka. This went hand in hand with a strong revival of interest in traditional English Folk Dance, song and music. Some remnants linger which are known to almost everyone but are unreconnizable as Folk Dance such as the Conga and the Hokey Cokey. These would have originally been danced by medievel carollers.

The dance perhaps most closely associated with the English folk tradition is the Morris dance which was revived in 1899. Since the fifteenth century the dance has been characterized by a group, usually of six men with a fool, a boy dressed as a woman – Mayde Maryan – and another man carrying the figure of a horse slung around his hips. All the dancers wears costumes decorated with numerous bells.The men often carry stout sticks. Blacking of the face is also common. Musical accompaniment is a flute and a small drum or bagpipe. Nowadays there might be a violin or an accordian. The dance itself consists of much stamping, leaping and turning both in lines and in circles.

Scotland has a very rich tradition of Folk Dance both at home and anywhere Scots have settled or gone to work. There were scotttish country dancing evenings at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria while I was working there.

Scottish Country dancing is a form of social dance involving groups of mixed couples of dancers tracing progressive patterns acording to a predetermined choreography. Stricltly speaking this is not Folk Dance as it has its origins in the courtly dances of the Renaissance

Scotland is also well- known for Highland Dancing. This is a style of fiery athletic solo dancing which evolved into its current form during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the context of competitions at Highland Games. It is typically danced to bagpipe music.

A jig is a type of dance as well as the accompanying music. It is popular in both Ireland and Scotland. It is peformed by a single dancer or sometimes by two together.

Just like the jig the Reel is both a dance and the name of the music it is danced to. It is believed to have originated in Ireland. The movements are very rhythmic. The steps are simple but must be danced fast. Irish immigrants were responsible for taking the Reel to Canada.

The Ceilidh tradition is shared by both Scotland and Ireland and is now known and appreciated worldwide. Orginally the Ceilidh was to help young people in finding a marriage partner. The dance is performed to fiddle, flute, tin whistle, accordion and in more recent times with drums and electric bass guitar. The music is cheerful and lively and dancers have to know the basic dance steps. Half of the dances are couple dances performed in a ring. Dances are named after famous battles and events and others after items of daily rural life. There is also dancing at Wakes before the burial of the deceased. Step dancing is also performed at Ceilidhs. This is a show dance performed only by the really talented. This style was highlighted in the 1990s by “River Dance” and subsequent shows.

Folk Dance in Wales has had a difficult time . The non-conformist sects in the eighteenth and nineteenth century brought a very unsympathetic attitude towards dance. The chapels considered the Welsh folk arts and customs as ones that were very sinful and not in keeping with chapel teaching. It was only in 1949 that the Welsh Folk Dance Society was formed to promote and resurrect the old dances. I do not feel that at the moment one can speak of Folk Dance in Africa. The social stratification and its destinctions that leads to Folk Dance do not exist. Dance is a living tradition which everyone is familiar with and participates in. Increasing urbanization and western education in Africa and interest in other parts of the world has led to the setting up of dance schools and dance companies. The younger generation are citizens of the world in instant contact with most areas of it. They may or may not feel that traditional dance is an essential part of their lives.

Dance instructors are not necessarily first class dancers themselves. I have seen African dance companies where the dances had been so weakened in spirit that they were mere shadows of themselves. There is also the problem of how best to present African Dance on the stage for an audience. Obviously it is not possible to describe this dance form on a global basis. So I have made a selection from the many dances and geographical areas in the world.In the United States of America I would like to mention a few dances brought by the settlers from Europe. This is not to devalue the extremely rich Native American heritage. I just do not feel that the dances fall under the heading of Folk Dance.

North America is known world-wide for its Square Dances. This is a dance where four couples begin and end each sequence in a square formation, with one couple each side of a square. The dance was first described in seventeenth century England. It has become associated with the USA due to it historic development in that country. The various dance steps are based on the steps used in traditional folk dances and social dances of the various people who migrated to the USA. Some of these traditonal dances included Morris Dance, English Country Dance and the Quadrille. A “Caller” announces the steps to be danced. Barn Dances as they are known in England still take place and are well-attended events.

The Polynesian population of Hawaii have an old-style hula called Kahiko. This dance predates european contact. The Hula is a dance unique to the Hawaiian islands.

The Cajun population dance the Troika. It is originally a Russian Dance where a man dances with two women. In the Russian dance the dancers imitate the prancing of horses pulling a sled or carriage. The Cajun dance has marked similarities to the Russian dance. Spain has a very rich Folk Dance tradition. In a number of large towns the tradition still exists of dancing in the main town square as a regular Sunday morning event. Anyone is welcome to join the dance and to be part of the group. Fellowship is offered to all taking part and this is the essential heart of Folk Dance.

The Fandango is one of the oldest popular dances in Spain. It is famous for its castenets, snapping fingers and stamping feet. There is a sudden pause in the music toward the end of each figure when the dancers stand rigid in the attitude caught when the music stopped. They only move again when the music is resumed.

The Farruca is a spanish gypsy dance for men. It features much heel work, fast double turns and falls. It is a very exciting dance to watch.

Sevillanas is an extremely popular and colorful festive Folk Dance from Seville. Sevillanas consists of six parts known as coplas. This dance is peformed by couples at fairs and pilgrimages.

Zambra is a spanish flamenco dance of moorish origin performed by gypsy women. Gypsies and Flamenco seem to go hand in hand as does virtuoso guitar playing. Folk Dance in Greenland originally was inspired by Dutch and Scottish reels. But these influences have led to a unique Folk Dance tradition.

German Folk Dance is often based on movements associated with occupational activities of earlier time. The

“Shustertanz” is a good example as shoemakers originally performed this dance. The “Schuhplatter” is a dance where the men perform complex jumps and slap their thighs and boots in time with the music. The women twirl showing off their petticoats and bloomers. The dance is accompanied by an accordian.I studied in Munich in the ’60s and this and many other dances were still genuine Folk Dance. It was not at all unusual to see country people wearing traditional outfits as everyday wear. I have seen the cows being brought down from the summer alpine pastures beautifully decorated with ribbons and bells. I also witnessed a farmer sowing wheat by the age old method of tossing handfuls of seeds onto the soil from a sack draped across his chest. All that now probably belongs to the distant past.

Other dances are Holzhackerbaum (woodcutters dance) Mulradl (millers wheel) and Hochzeitstanz (wedding dance).

The Middle East has a vibrant and spectacular Folk Dance heritage. Dance features at all life’s great milestones. Birth, marriage and death are only some of them.

An example of a Folk Dance style spreading worldwide is Bhangra. Bhangra is a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region of SE Asia.It began as part of harvest festival celebrations. Eventually it became a part of such diverse occassions as weddings and New Year celebrations. During the last thirty years it has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house and reggae.

The world has such an incredibly rich Folk Dance tradition which we should foster as a living , evolving treasure. We should also fully document what we have now.

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