The Evolution and Characteristics of Folk Dance

Every human society in the world has a distinct way of celebrating cultural events or milestones in the lives of its members. In these celebrations, a common thread is the performance of cultural dances, commonly referred to as folk dances.

Evolution of the Folk Dance

A folk dance is a cultural-specific performance of song and dance passed on from generation to generation. In pre-industrial rural societies, folk dance was used to bring the community together for major events such as childbirths, marriages, and when appeasing the spirits of the deceased.

However, as societies became more industrialised, the concept of the folk dance weakened. Central to this weakening was the dilution of culture and the spread of impersonal urban lifestyles.

Moreover, the decline of tradition and the rise of a more ‘globalised’ culture led people to dismiss, or entirely discard, their longstanding ways of life and adopt new cultural norms.

However, despite ongoing industrialisation and modernisation in most parts of the world, folk dance retains its high importance. Today, these dances are still performed in many societies across the globe.

Communities are putting effort into preserving their traditional dances for future generations. In schools and colleges, students study this form of dance in the arts, humanities, and cultural studies departments of universities.

Some are even performing or re-enacting these dances for recreational purposes, such as Unibet, as a way to win the hearts and minds of young generations.

Characteristics of Folk Dances

Every society has its own way of celebrating and fulfilling its cultural obligations. Despite their diversity, folk dances have some common characteristics across many cultures.

Besides being performed in social settings, other common features and attributes include the following:

This is one of the most common characteristics of folk dance. Dancers dressed in cultural regalia form a circle facing each other while music rends the air.

At the centre of the circle, there may be a cultural artefact, which seems to be the focus of the performance. Everything sang is directed at this object.

In other performances, a dancer will enter the centre of the circle and do a jig before re-joining the others. This typically continues until every participant repeats the process several times.

Folk dances are mostly performed for considerable lengths of time. It is rare that a folk dance lasts less than ten minutes.

They frequently go on for over 30 minutes until all formalities and rituals are performed. In some dances, dancers will take a break while fresh legs join in to replace those that have left.

Folk dancing is exhausting, and generally requires a high degree of physical fitness and mental endurance.

In most societies, Folk dance involves a vigorous, almost violent, movement of the body, such as a shaking of the head, a twisting of the waist, or a gesticulation of the hands. In some cases, not everyone can perform with such vigour.

Usually, a select group of dancers is recruited who, through practice and rehearsal, perfect their dance until it is ready to be performed in public.

Folk dances follow well-known patterns and formations. Dancers, through practice and experience, perfect these movements until they achieve a high level of synchronisation.

Dance steps, hand gestures, and even facial expressions, all move according to a harmonious rhythm, as an accompanying song is belted out by one or more singers.

Folk dances are living cultural artefacts. Different societies have elaborate systems for the handing over of dances from one generation to another. This usually happens through oral transmission, live demonstrations, or simple observation.

By doing this, the cultural identities of these societies can be maintained for years to come, despite the encroachments of globalisation.