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!

Bamboo Train of Battambong: On the slow route in Cambodia

Bamboo Train of Battambong: On the slow route in Cambodia

When they think of Cambodia, most people think of two things. There is the splendour of the temple complex of Angkor Wat, glowing golden in the sunset at the jungle’s edge; and then there is the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the reign of terror which I still clearly remember seeing on the news in my late childhood and teenage years.

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Angkor Wat

Both of these are very much a part of modern day Cambodia, at least for the visitor. I travelled there in early 2012, and the country left a huge impression on me. It seemed to be just starting to come into its own as a tourist destination, with the majority of the hotels still locally owned, even at the tourist mecca of Siem Reap; driving through the countryside, however, along the single carriageway main roads across the country, we were constantly entertained by the life along the roadside, where many houses are still built on stilts in the old fashion, and people work the fields as they have for generations.

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Angkor Wat

We covered the usual Cambodia stops: Angkor, Lake Tonle Sap, and then across to Phnom Penh and the palaces and prisons that tell both sides of Cambodia’s story. But what has stuck in my mind the most is a seemingly ordinary town: Battambang.

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I was rather looking forward to Battambang, largely because of the name. Also written as Battambong, it sounded like one of those places you just wanted to be able to say you were in – you know, “Oh, I’m just hanging out in Battambong at the moment… yep, Battambong” – for the sheer pleasure of saying the name again and again. It’s not the most glamorous place; in fact, it is decidedly untouristy, but that was what I loved about it. I’m all for seeing the famous sights, and they are generally famous for a good reason, but I only feel like I have truly visited a country when I have seen the side of life that is normality for the people who live there. (One memorable afternoon in India I convinced half the group to come with me to a shopping mall and multiplex; we had a great time getting introduced to modern Bollywood and eating the samosa+coke mega deal from the concession stand). So Battambang fitted the bill nicely, with its local streets, lack of fancy temples, and an atmospheric market to stroll through by the river’s edge.

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We were lodged in one of Battambang’s better hotels, which was an experience in itself. Our room was beautifully decked out, floor to ceiling, in light pink ceramic tiles which gave it the feel of a 19th century hospital. But no matter, it was clean and the air con worked. There were tuk-tuks outside to take us into town, and on to an alternative destination: the bamboo train.

The bamboo train was something most of our group had never heard of, although I had seen it on television and was keen to go. There is a disused railway line outside Battambang and, not wishing it to go to waste but somewhat lacking in actual trains, the locals came up with an ingenious method of constructing their own transport. Old railway bogeys have been fitted with a small engine and topped off by a raft-like structure made of bamboo, on which you sit cross-legged like a rather rickety magic carpet. The platform and engine can be lifted off the rails and repositioned facing the other way, which means these “trains” can run up and down the line to their heart’s content without needing a complicated turning mechanism.

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Our group was split between several of these bamboo trains, with three of us sharing ours. The first thing to note is that bamboo matting is not the most comfortable or well-padded of seating at the best of times. Cross-legged on our mat, we set off along what appeared at first to be a straight stretch of track, but soon turned out to be considerably bumpier than we had imagined. Backsides rapidly going numb, yet feeling every jolt, we followed our companions up the line, pausing occasionally to admire the view or allow an oncoming train to be lifted off the track and carried past us.

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The line has long since outlived its practical usefulness, and is now very much a tourist venture. So it is that, at the end of the line, the destination is a small village where we were quickly surrounded by children keen to try out their English and, more importantly, to sell us handicrafts and earn tips by entertaining us while we waited. But it hardly mattered. Heading back down the line the way we came, the bamboo train had sealed its status as one of the more memorable afternoons I spent in Cambodia.

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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!