Until the written word was invented, humans communicated by speech and movement. Myths and oral histories were passed on in story, song and dance form. Pictures of dancers have been found in tombs and cave paintings. Sri Lankan dance originated 2,500 years ago as a way to break a spell on a bewitched king!
Ballet dance tells a story. Narrative dancing started in India, China, Indonesia and Ancient Greece. It wasn't until the 1400's that ballet dance emerged as a practiced art in Italy. The grace and discipline of ballet dance and ballerinas attracted artist Edgar Degas, who painted and made sculptures of ballerinas.
Ballroom dance is social dancing that evolved as a popular spectacle during the 20th century. It turns dances like the waltz and fox trot into a competitive sport. Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire were famous American ballroom dancers who had an incredible effect on ballroom dancing culture. The world fell in love with their grace and talent.
Flamenco is a fast-paced dance style that includes a lot of stomping and percussion. It is generally thought to be from the entire country of Spain, although it originates from one particular region: Andalusia. It is a combination of Islamic and Gypsy cultures put to traditional Spanish flamenco music.
Hula dances tell a story to a Hawaiian song, called a mele. Male and female hula dancers are accompanied by guitars, the double bass, ukeleles, drums and hollowed out gourds. Any celebration or community event is cause for a hula dance, performed in traditional costume. If you want to learn some great moves, watch the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch."
Jazz dance was the original name for tap dance, which was danced to jazz music. Since then, jazz dance has evolved into a sharp, energetic style of dance with loose movements and a definite rhythm. Jazz dance is very popular on Broadway, where the great choreographer Bob Fosse used jazz dance moves in musicals like Chicago and Caberet.
Modern dance was a 20th century rebellion against classical ballet. Dancers like Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan started a more free and athletic style of dance that requires great flexibility and training. Unlike classical ballet, however, modern dance is more open to different body types and talents and fits more modern music styles.
Salsa is a Latin dance that is set to quick salsa music. It is a partnered dance, usually between a man and a woman. Salsa means "spicy" in Spanish, and the dance is often flirtatious. It has deep roots in the Caribbean and African American traditions. There is heated debate today about whether the dance originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico.
Swing dance developed from Dixieland Jazz in the 1920's and was the most popular dancing style until the 1940's. A lot of swing dance and swing music is part of the African American heritage. Swing dancing is a popular "retro" skill today and there are still hundreds of styles, like the Lindy Hop, and competitions worldwide.
Tango originated in Argentina and Uruguay. It's a partnered dance with quick movements and fast footwork. Part of a successful tango performance is the outfit, which moves with the dancer and creates a beautiful spectacle. Even though tango is typically a South American dance, there are over 100,000 tango dancers in Finland, which also hosts the Tango Museum.
Tap dance started as vaudeville dance in the 19th century and evolved into tap dance when metal taps were attached to shoes for the first time in 1925. President George Bush signed National Tap Dance Day into law in 1989. It is celebrated on May 25th, the birthday of legendary dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.