Folk dance is a term used to describe a large number of dances, mostly of European origin, that tend to share the following attributes:

  • They were originally danced in about the 19th century or earlier (or are, in any case, 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;
  • They have been developed spontaneously and there is no governing body that has final say over what “the dance” is or who is authorized to teach it. This also means that no one has the final say over the definition of folk dance or the minimum age for such dances.

Folk dances are traditionally performed during social events by people with little or no professional training. New dancers often learn informally by observing others and/or receiving help from others. Folk dancing is viewed as more of a social activity rather than competitive, although there are professional and semi-professional folk dance groups, and occasional folk dance competitions

Terminology

The term “folk dance” is sometimes applied to dances of historical European culture, typically originated before 20th century. For other cultures the terms ethnic dance or traditional dance are sometimes used, although the latter terms may encompass ceremonial dances.

There are a number of modern dances such as hip hop that evolve spontaneously, but the term “folk dances” is generally not applied to them, and the terms “street dance” or “vernacular dance” are used instead. The term “folk dances” is reserved for dances which are to a significant degree bound by European tradition and originated in the times when the distinction existed between the dances of “common folk” and the dances of the “high society”.
A number of modern ballroom dances originated from folk ones.

The terms ethnic and traditional are used when it is required to emphasize the cultural roots of the dance. It this sense, nearly all folk dances are ethnic ones. If some dances, such as polka, cross ethnic boundaries (and even cross the boundary between Folk and Ballroom dance), ethnic differences are often considerable enough to speak of, e.g., “Czech Polka” vs. “German Polka”.
However, not all ethnic dances are folk ones. The simplest example of these are ritual dances or dances of ritual origin.

Types of folk dance

Types of folk dance include clogging, contra dance, English country dance, international folk dance, Irish dance, Maypole dance, Morris dance, Scottish country dance, Ball de bastons, square dance, and sword dance. Some choreographed dances such as Israeli folk dance are called folk dances, though this is not true in the strictest sense. Country dance overlaps with contemporary folk dance and ballroom dance. Most country dances and ballroom dances originated from folk dances, with gradual refinement over the years.

Folk dances are part of the overall culture of the country, and often have common features. People familiar with folk dancing can often determine what country a dance is from even if they have not seen that particular dance before. Some countries’ dances have features that are unique to that country, although neighboring countries sometimes have similar features. For example, the German and Austrian schuhplattling dance consists of slapping the body and shoes in a fixed pattern, a feature that few other countries’ dances have. Folk dances sometimes evolved long before current political boundaries, so that certain dances are shared by several countries. For example, some Serbian, Bulgarian, and Croatian dances share the same or similar dances, and sometimes even use the same name and music for those dances.
Although folk dancing was historically done by the common people of the local culture, international folk dance has received some popularity on college campuses and community centers within the United States and other countries.

Mexican Folkloric dance developed over five centuries from the pre-Columbian, the Spanish conquest, the French Intervention which included an Austrian influence, the Porfiriato, and the 1910 Revolution to the modern. The fusion of all these influences with the indigenous created over 300 dance styles, within the thirty-two Mexican states, that are now just “Mexican” and unique. (From The Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago, www.mexfoldanco.org).

Folk dancing in the media
Richard Thompson wrote a song folk dancers titled Don’t Sit On My Jimmy Shands, a reference to Scottish musician Jimmy Shand that produced bagpipe music. In the 1960’s this movement was supported by record labels such as Folk Dancer by Michael and Maryann Herman, and the Folkways Records label by Moses Asch which is currently under the Smithsonian Institute.

External links
Folk festivals around the world
Folk Dancing at the Open Directory Project (suggest site)
Additional folk dance information
Folk Dance Association (US and Canada)
International folk dance articles

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