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Cultural Dance

This is an excerpt from Experiencing Dance-2nd Edition With Web Resources by Helene Scheff,Marty Sprague & Susan McGreevy-Nichols.

Lesson 9.1

Cultural Dance

Move It!

Close your eyes. Visualize a traditional dance pose or step from a specific culture. Open your eyes and show it to your classmates. Ask them to identify the country by your demonstration of the pose or step.


  • world dance

Curtain Up

Dance is for everyone, but it means different things to different cultures. In many cultures dance is not separated from everyday life. It is used in religious rites and ceremonies, and for many it can be a rite of passage, a thanking of the gods, or the raising and quieting of spirits. Dance is also a way to celebrate. Notation of dances is a relatively new practice. Most cultural dance movements, meanings, and techniques are handed down from one generation to the next. Men dance with men, women dance with women, and men and women dance together.

You can delve into your cultural background and find movement and material that can be used in building dances. Look to your heritage. In the United States all people or their ancestors, except Native Americans, have come from another country. Whatever your ancestral background might be, there should be someone around who remembers some of the reasons why people of your culture dance certain dances. If you do not have firsthand or secondhand knowledge, you can rely on traditional research methods. You can pull information from videos, pictures, artwork, the Internet, and other written sources. Often there are societies that preserve and practice the dances of their countries.

World dance is a term currently used to describe dances that stem from an ethnic culture and express the movement aesthetic of that culture. It is a global term and has evolved from the term ethnic dance. World dance includes the folk dances in which widespread participation identifies it as part of the way of life of the country. World dance is not to be confused with the classical theatrical forms of ballet, modern, and jazz.

Tribal dance can also be under the umbrella of the term world dance. It stems from a time before industrialization and is inherent in community life. It is not used for entertainment and is usually serious in nature, done during rites of passage, before battles, at victory celebrations, and as mourning rituals. Sometimes it is even used as a way to communicate with the supernatural.
Flamenco dance is one example of world dance.

© Photowitch |

Take the Stage

Create a dance based on the research of a dance from a particular country or region. Before you begin, read the criteria in this lesson's Take a Bow, and use the information as a guide to complete this activity.

  1. Choose a country or region of a country.
  2. Research the chosen country or region. Use videos to select a dance. The Internet is a great resource of folk or world dances. Other resources are music recordings, reference books, and other print materials. Research could include who does the dance, what purpose the dance serves in that context, where specifically the dance is done, and when the dance is done, such as during festivals or rites of passage. Aspects from the research should be evident in the dance and should also be documented in your notes and reflections. Look to your local or state arts organization for help in finding a cultural group in your community that specializes in dance from your chosen country or region.
  3. Create your original dance. Start by selecting and learning key movements and steps and phrases from the world dance. Build other dance phrases from research. Finally, organize the dance phrases in an order that pleases you.
  4. Revise your dance. Reread the criteria to see if anything is missing. Video-record your dance and evaluate your work. Make revisions as necessary. Remember, seeking critiques from other people is always a good practice.

Take a Bow

Evaluate your dance using the criteria and rubric. When you want to assess your work, you need something to function as a guide. Part of your job is to find the answers to the criteria questions.

Use evidence from the criteria and rubric for your portfolio, and include other evidence, such as reflections on the research and choreographic process, research notes, bibliography from research, and final reflection on the completed dance.


Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández

Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández (1917-2000) is a troupe that started with only eight dancers. They performed the traditional folk dances of Mexico. Amalia Hernández's vision as master choreographer was to introduce the elements of Western classical theatrical dance forms into the folk dance traditions. This was one of her greatest innovations. Mexican folkloric is now a dance form of its own. As a touring group, Ballet Folklórico de México has brought to the world the richness and mystery of Mexican culture.

Did You Know?

Arts and Cultural Organizations That Include Dance

Most state councils of the arts have someone on staff who is responsible for keeping a list of community cultural organizations that include dance. This person might also have information about classes, performances, traditional costumes, and internship possibilities. You may be able to find the contact information for your state council on the arts in the government listings in your phone book or on your city or state's home page on the Internet. Sometimes cities and towns have their own council on the arts that lists local arts resources.

More Excerpts From Experiencing Dance 2nd Edition With Web Resources