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!

Camping in Namibia: Quirky campsites and preconceptions

Camping in Namibia: Quirky campsites and preconceptions

The year is 2009. I’m in Africa for the first time in my life – specifically, in the Namibia “panhandle” which extends along the top of Botswana, close to the border with Angola. In short, it’s one of the most exotic places I’ve been in my life so far.

We are staying at the most backpacker-y place we have stayed yet: Ngepi Camp. We are just over halfway through a round trip from Windhoek, through Namibia, and about to head into Botswana and the Okavango delta before heading back to Windhoek. The camp is a quirky place, set on the bank of the Okavango river, which has the distinction of being one of the few rivers in the world which never actually reaches the sea. It rises in Angola, and makes a quick 20 mile dash across Namibia before spreading out into the delta that bears its name, then evaporating into the warm air of the Kalahari.

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We pitch our tents on the river bank. There’s a stern warning tonight: avoid the nice flat area where the vegetation that lines the bank disappears to give a spectacular view of the water. The reason we have to avoid it is that it is apparently the spot where crocodiles and hippos come onto land, and they are not known for making detours around tents. I don’t sleep especially well knowing we are only slightly off the hippo M1.

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The best thing about Ngepi camp, apart from the hippos, is the toilets. Yes, I said toilets. Each outdoes the next; all outdoor, you could be hiding in the jungle or looking out over the river as you’re taking care of business. It makes for a spectacular visit, although it’s a little spooky at night and, by daylight, you do have to check for passing dugouts on the river before compromising your dignity…

The following day we make a visit to a local village. Traditionally built of mud huts, it’s an eyeopener for me and somewhere I never thought I’d see in person. As we arrive, a teenage boy is driving two cows towing a bundle of branches to a spot where, we are told, he is building a small house. Apparently it is a rite of passage for the teenagers of the community, teaching them skills they will need in adulthood. Any romantic idea, however, that African teenagers are somehow more responsible than British ones is dispelled by our host, who explains that he is having to be browbeaten by his parents into actually getting on with it!

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We arrive at one of the mud homes, which is a compound containing two houses, a clothes line full of washing, and a family sitting around in the shade of a tree. They also have several puppies, who have found a shady corner to curl up in – unfortunately right in the gateway, meaning we have to avoid stepping on them as their cream-coloured fur blends into the sand. The children are gorgeous, although this is clearly a poor community. A young lady in her 20s shows us inside her home, and another stereotype is shattered as I notice her collection of handbags hanging on pegs, one of which is very similar to my own. I make sure to compliment her on it.

The final romantic image, however, is shattered by grandma, who has come from Botswana to pay a visit to the family. I think all our group have the same image in our minds: the intrepid lady trekking for days across the sands, on foot, with a cloth bundle over her shoulder and herds of zebra grazing in the background. “How did she get here?”, someone asks. The answer? “In a taxi with her passport”.

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!