Traditional dance around the world

Traditional dance around the world

One of the joys of travel is to experience the best of cultures the world over. Music and dancing is a huge part of my life at home, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it in many styles across the globe, sometimes as a display for tourists, sometimes in its most authentic form. Here are my 12 favourite traditional dance experiences – what are yours?


 1. Kathakali dancers, Kerala, India

India’s Kathakali dancers hail from the southern state of Kerala, and I was lucky enough to see them perform in Kochi. In heavy makeup and elaborate costumes, the dancers perform complicated steps, hand gestures and eye movements to tell a story. All Kathakali dancers are male, with men dressing up in feminine costumes to portray the male characters.

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The all-male Kathakali dancers of Kerala, southern India

 


 2. Local dancers, Damaraland, Namibia

Sometimes traditional dance is a spectacle, sometimes it is interactive. On a night in the Damara region of Namibia, we were treated to a dance display by local teenagers, where old met new as dances were performed with a cheeky grin by young people in jeans and sweatshirts! I love to see modern life as well as traditional, and we had a fun evening as the kids dragged us all up to join the circle. And like teenagers the world over, phones were out and text messages were sent as they danced…

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Modern teenagers perform their traditional dances, Damaraland, Namibia


3. San Bushmen, Kalahari Desert, Botswana

The San Bushmen of the Kalahari have a proud tradition that goes back into the mists of time. The San culture is kept alive today by the tribespeople in the form of traditional displays, and if you head to this corner of Botswana you might be lucky enough to see them dance. Sitting around a fire, the women clap and sing while the men shuffle and stamp their way in a pattern that has been passed down for generations. Beneath a starry African sky, it’s an unforgettable experience.

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 4. Fire dancers, Bali, Indonesia

One of the most incredible traditional dance displays I have seen on my travels has to be the fire dancers of Bali. Leaping through the flames, the dancers kick up the embers in a spectacular feat of bravery. They rely on religious blessings to keep themselves safe from the flames – all I can say is it seems to work!

 


5. Khmer classical dance, Cambodia

The traditional dance of Cambodia has many similarities with that of its neighbour, Thailand. Colourful costumes, elaborate headdresses, and complex hand and foot movements make this intricate dance style a joy to watch. With every tilt of the head and jingle of the dancers’ bells, you are transported to another time and place.

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The intricate style of Cambodian dance is matched only by the beautiful costumes


6. Folk dancing, Almaty, Kazakhstan

In the heart of Kazakhstan’s biggest city, Almaty, lies Panfilov Park, and on a summer’s afternoon we came across an outdoor concert. Local women in brightly-coloured costumes danced and sang folk songs over a loudspeaker system, while children proudly showed off their heritage for friends and family with a series of traditional dances. With a large Russian population and a strong sense of national pride, it was a captivating way to spend time in this Central Asian city!

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Local children perform for the crowd in Almaty, Kazakhstan


7. Capoeira, Brazil

Capoeira is where dance meets martial arts. Whirling their legs and performing death-defying backflips, capoeira experts will take your breath away! I was lucky enough to catch a demonstration of this dramatic art form on a visit to Rio de Janeiro. It’s definitely one to just sit back and watch, unless you’re super-fit and very brave…


8. Tango, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina is synonymous with the tango. Argentine tango is a discipline all its own, and is easy to find on the streets of Buenos Aires: just head to the La Boca district to see couples dancing in doorways to the sound of live musicians. At night, head to a tango bar where you can have a lesson yourself before dinner and drinks as you watch the professionals at work. Just breathtaking.

 


9. Traditional dance, Flores, Indonesia

On the island of Flores, in eastern Indonesia, we visited a village one evening for a fantastic display of dancing. Everyone got involved, from the children to any adult who could still manage the odd step or two. In national dress, they acted out stories in the darkness of their village courtyard, before an athletic display as they jumped over crossed bamboo poles in an extreme version of the games we used to play as kids. Before the night was out, we were all up on our feet dancing along to the beat of the music.

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Local village dancing, Moni, Flores, Indonesia


10. Salsa dancing, Cuba

Salsa music is everywhere in Cuba; in fact, the country seems to operate to a permanent salsa beat. In the dance halls of Trinidad on the south coast, you can dance into the night to local bands. It’s not so hard; give it a go, perhaps with a mojito or two to loosen the inhibitions, then sit back and watch the serious dancers spin and gyrate on the dance floor. If you’re lucky, as I was, you will find a local to spin you around so you really get into the Cuban spirit…

 


11. Traditional dance, central highlands of Madagascar

On a dark evening in a remote corner of Madagascar, we were treated to a music and dance performance by local people. The drumming rang out around the enclosed room as we watched the performers, especially the man who had been forced into one of the female roles and looked extremely embarrassed about it! Afterwards, our group danced up a storm alongside the experts. The remoteness of the location and basic huts we were staying in added to the atmosphere on that memorable evening.

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Local dancers perform, Ambositra, central Madagascar


12. Morris dancers, England

The morris dancers of England are steeped in tradition, and can still be found at village fetes across the country in the summer months. By tradition, the dancers wear white shirts with colourful sashes or waistcoats and vibrantly decorated hats. Bells adorn the ankles, and handkerchiefs and sticks are waved and clapped as part of the dance. Performed in groups to traditional country music, this is a quintessentially English tradition!

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England’s traditional morris dancers. Photo: Pixabay creative commons

 


What are your favourite traditional dance moments from your own travels? What dance is your country famous for? Let me know in the comments!


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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

Animal encounters: Hyenas in the night

Animal encounters: Hyenas in the night

It’s 2am in Botswana, and I wake up with a start inside my tent.

I’m in the Okavango Delta in the north of the country, and we are staying in a campsite just on the edge of the Moremi game reserve. The previous evening, sitting around our campfire, we were aware of being watched from the bushes surrounding the open space where our tents are pitched. Green eyes could be seen in the distance, glaring in the artificial light from our torches, as our guide told us of the hyenas who hover around this particular campsite, ready to scavenge through the rubbish bins for anything they can eat. We went to bed with dire warnings not to leave anything outside our tents if we wanted it to still be there tomorrow.

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My tent. Surely canvas is ample protection against vicious predators?

But a series of bangs rouses me from my sleep during the night, along with the unmistakeable sound of a tarpaulin being attacked by marauding hyenas. My tent is perhaps 8 feet from our food truck, which had been carefully packed up the night before, covered with a tightly-fixed tarpaulin, and secured with a heavy metal table balanced on the top. The hyenas, naturally, haven’t been fooled by the tarp and are well aware that there is food inside. They are having a good go at it, with much snapping and snarling as they tug at the covers just a few feet away from where I am lying under canvas.

I’m torn between fear of the animals outside, and wonder at finding myself in this situation in the first place. Until the previous day I had never so much as seen a hyena, wild or otherwise, and suddenly I am in the middle of what they see as their territory. Eventually the hyenas give up and move away, but it is some time before I can fall back to sleep.

The following morning we assess the damage. The litter bins used by another group across the campsite have been ransacked, with rubbish strewn across a wide area. At our end of the site, the warnings have paid off, and all our possessions are safe. The only casualty? The rubber hose attachment to our gas bottle, which was the only item our guides forgot to put away. Apparently rubber is good enough for a hungry hyena looking for a midnight snack. But at least it wasn’t my tent…

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The aftermath of a hyena attack…

Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!