Folk dance is a form of dance developed by a group of
people that reflects the traditional life of the people of a
certain country or region. Folk dancing originated in the
18th century to distinguish dance forms of common people
from those of the upper classes.
Folk dances, unlike most other dance forms, tend to have no
stringent rules, and are sometimes formed spontaneously
among groups of people. The steps of folk dances are
passed through generations, rarely being changed. Folk
dancing is usually associated with social activities, although
some folk dances are performed competitively.
The history of folk dance dates back several centuries, though very
little detail is known about its origins. While nobody is really sure
what folk dancing looked like two thousand years ago, historians are
confident that it already existed at that time. Because folk dances
are highly traditional and are taught through the generations, the
evolution of the genre has been slow as various cultural groups
preserve their inventories of cultural dances.
Cultural dances came into being with a social function, weaving recreation into
celebrations and important agricultural events. While many groups perform folk
dances onstage today, the genesis of folk dancing right up through the middle of
the 20th century was non-performative for the most part. Although exotic dancing
became popular in Europe during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the artists who
performed folk dances from their own culture on stages in Paris and London had
removed the social aspect from the genre.
In addition to the social nature of the dance, special costumes were often present.
In costuming, as well as the musical rhythms that dictated the various cultural
dances, the evidence of a deep, slowly evolving cultural tradition is evident. Due to
the isolated nature of the world's regions up until the last century, many different
forms of folk dancing evolved in different regions of the world. Folk dancing from
India looks very different from folk dancing from Mexico, but it is all under the
umbrella term of folk dancing because it is social in nature and it is steeped in
tradition instead of a culture of innovation.
Latin American Folk Dance - With influences from native cultures and European and African
immigrants, Latin American dances were diverse from the outset. While the native dances of the
Peruvians and the Brazilians were pure in style, the folk dances that we now recognize from the
region are all representative of merged styling. The Samba has African influences while Mexican
dances were influenced by Spanish rhythms and movement styles. Since the 1900s, many folk
dances from this region have evolved into social dances with a performative goal, such as the
British Folk Dance - In Great Britain many forms of dancing have developed over the years and
still enjoy a considerable presence in the modern dance world.
Clogging - Similar to tap dancing, clogging started in Wales and migrated to England in the 15th
century. While the Welsh and English versions are stylistically different, and both different
from Irish hard shoe dance, American clogging and American tap dancing, many parallels exist.
Clogging started out as a fairly unrefined dance form (it was actually called 'flat-footing' and
'stomping' by many) and has evolved to include an inventory of steps that require more precise
movements and generate complex rhythms.
Maypole - Often danced on May Day in England, the Maypole dance is also sometimes
taught in American elementary schools. The maypole itself is a tall pole decorated with
floral garlands, flags and streamers. Ribbons are then attached to the pole or to a smaller
one, and everyone grabs one as they begin to dance around. The dance is especially popular
Irish Dance - Folk dance history's most up to date accomplishment is found in Irish step
dancing, which was made popular in the mid 1990s by live performances such as Riverdance.
While the choreography dates far back in time, dance enthusiasts go wild for its modern
counterpart, and we often visualize children in traditional Irish dress rhythmically
stomping their feet whenever we think of folk dance.
Eastern Folk Dance - In the Middle and Far East several different types of cultural
dancing have evolved. From Korean sword dancing to Iranian cultural dances, this vast
region also has a rich variety of folk dancing.
Persian Dance - Traditional Persian or Iranian music started developing soon after the
year 0 and became the basis for several musical schools, and therefore movement schools.
Early Iranian music can be divided into the Baghdad and the Cordoba traditions, which
each developed their own distinct dances. The Cordoba style traveled to Europe (Spain)
and laid the basis for flamenco dancing among other traditions.
In various regions of Persia different styles formed, such as the Kurdish line dances and
the Qashqai scarf dances. Historical records are largely absent regarding the timeline of
these dances' development because of the questionable position that dancing held in many
of the societies where they originated.
Bhangra Dance - In Southeast Asia, a region called Punjab is the source of the various
styles of Bhangra dance. Different styles evolved in different regions, but they are all
folk dances in nature in that they are social, costuming is traditional, and the steps get
passed down with only minor modifications through the generations. Characterized by
brightly-colored festive clothing and groups of men and women with their own styles and
steps, Bhangra dances developed as an important cultural element in Southeast Asia.
Common Ground - Folk dancing developed in multiple areas of the world in parallel, and
folk dancing from Korea looks nothing like folk dancing from Brazil. What all these
dance traditions have in common is that they express the cultural values and
traditions of the region where they originated, and they serve an important artistic
and social function for the people from those same regions. Because of the historical
viewpoint, the focus is on preserving traditions instead of breaking free from them.
For this reason folk dancing offers a unique opportunity to look back in time and
dancing history, cultivating appreciation and artistry along the way.
Philippine folk dance has a long and diverse history. Each region
in the Philippines features its own folk dances, originating from
the pre-colonial era to the time of the Spanish occupation from
the 1500s until the late 1800s. Most of these Filipino folk
dances tell stories about historical happenings, ways of
life, cultural influences and religious customs.
Long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, the indigenous people
who mostly lived in the mountainous regions used folk dances in cultural
celebrations, worships and rituals. They used music and dance to connect
with the gods, appease their ancestors, pray for bountiful harvests and
favorable weather, ask for healing, seek guidance during wars and ward off
bad luck and natural calamities. They also danced to socialize and to
express their feelings. Most of the mountain tribes from the northern part
of the Philippines have carefully preserved their folk dances.
The "Dinuyya" of the Ifugaos is a dance originating from the Cordilleras. It
is regularly staged during festivals in Lagawe, Mountain Province. The Ibaloi
also perform the popular regional dance called the "Bendiyan," which
involves hundreds of male and female dancers performing in rituals.
Luzon is the northern island of the Philippines, mainly composed of the Ilocos
region in the north and the Tagalog region in the south. The people in Ilocos are
called Ilocanos and the provinces within the region include Ilocos Norte, Ilocos
Sur, Mountain Province, Abra, Ifugao, La Union and Pangasinan. Most of the folk
dances here are mixtures of indigenous and Spanish elements and are usually
performed during special occasions such as weddings and fiestas.
The "Sakuting" dance from Abra interprets a mock fight between Christians and
non-Christians using fighting sticks. The "Binasuan" dance of Pangasinan involves
dancers displaying impressive balance, graceful movements and unusual dance
skills as each dancer uses three glasses each half-filled with water or rice wine
and placed on top of the head and on the palm of each hand. They execute fast
turns, sitting and rolling on the floor without spilling the contents in each "baso,"
The Tagalogs form the southern part of the Luzon island, which is also
home to the country's capital, Manila. Even during the Spanish times, the
major government centers have been located here. So most of the dances
in the region reflect Spanish and European influences.
Originating from Lubang Island, Mindoro, the "Pandango Sa Ilaw" comes
from the Spanish dance "fandango" and is characterized by lively steps
while balancing three oil lamps each on the head and on the back of each
hand. Performed by men wearing coconut shells attached on their chests,
backs, thighs and hips, the "Maglalatik" of Binan, Laguna is a mock war
dance demonstrating the fight between the "Moros" and the Christians
over a prized coconut meat called "latik." The "Bulaklakan" dance comes
from the word "bulaklak," which means "flower." It is performed every
May; dancing girls each hold an arched garland of leaves and flowers
attached to a wire, bamboo or rattan.
Visayas is the central part of the Philippine archipelago. Visayan dances mostly tell
stories of people's lives and frequently draw inspirations from animal movements.
The Philippines' national dance is the "Tinikling," from the province of Leyte. This dance
originates from the word "Tikling," a native bird with long legs and long neck. The dance
imitates the bird's movements as it walks between grass stems or runs over tree
branches. Dancers perform between a series of bamboo poles while keeping their feet
from being caught between the opening and closing movements of the bamboos.
Performed using a moderate waltz style, the "Kuratsa" from Bohol tells the story of a
young playful couple's attempts to get each other's attention. The "Itik-itik" tells the
story of a young woman in Surigao del Norte who begins to improvise her dance steps by
imitating the movements of an "itik" which means "duck." Her unusual steps and
fascinating interpretation becomes famous in her hometown. The "Inalimanggo" in Panay
and Capiz portrays the mud crab's movements translated into dance form.
Muslim and Moro Dances
Unlike the northern and central parts of the Philippines, which are
mainly occupied by Christians, the Mindanao region in the southern
part of the Philippines is a Muslim region never conquered by the
Spaniards. Islam was introduced in this area during the 12th century.
The Muslims in Mindanao are also known as "Moros." These dances
are of both pre-Muslim and Muslim origins. Dancers typically wear
alluring and colorful costumes decorated with jewels, swords and
The "Ipat" dance is used to appease the ancestral spirits. The
"Baluang" creates the illusion of an angry monkey as performed by
male dancers. The "Singkil" is a royal dance telling the story of a
Muslim princess who got caught in the middle of a forest during an
earthquake caused by the "diwatas," meaning "fairies."