Do you have itchy feet after all these months of lockdown? Now could be the time to do a little homework on the world of dance. And dance does span the globe, with genres found all over that are historically integral to their communities, cultures and regions.
Of course, being culturally engaged is not the only advantage of learning to dance. Moving your body can provide great comforts, both emotionally and physically. Not only does dancing provide health benefits, improving everything from cardiovascular strength to bone density to brain activity, moving your body has also been proven to reduce stress and anxiety — which everyone could benefit from right now.
Here are eight cultural dances that you can learn at home through online tutorials or mobile dance apps. Take a look (or a spin) and you might be well equipped when the world is ready for globe-trotting, street parties and celebrations with no limits.
ORIGIN Egypt. Also commonly danced in Turkey, the Middle East and India.
When Egyptian women gathered to socialize in the 18th century, they would belly dance. It was a celebration of the feminine, a dance form that distinguishes itself through sharp hip movements, belly rolls and tricky flutters, especially when paired with shimmies, torso isolations and wavelike movements of the hands and arms.
Nowadays, it’s danced at celebrations of all sorts, including weddings and birthdays, and is synonymous with colorful, intricate outfits and coin-laden hip scarves that chime to typically high-tempo music. Belly dancing may take a long time to master, but the dancer Iana Komarnytska’s YouTube channel is full of drills and tutorials that help whether you’re a beginner or more acquainted with the style.
ORIGIN Cuba. Also commonly danced throughout West Africa and the Americas.
At a comfortable tempo between not too slow and not too fast, salsa is one of the most popular Latin dance styles worldwide. It’s commonly performed with a partner, but it can certainly be danced solo, too.
Salsa found its popularity in Cuba’s old casinos and community halls. It’s a joyous dance, full of dynamism. It has also spawned many subgenres thanks to the Cuban diaspora, including Cali style (Colombian salsa, which is more up-tempo, with faster turns) and New York-style (a little smoother, influenced by the mambo). Salsa can be sensual or family-friendly — it simply depends on whom you’re dancing with. Learn everything from basics to more complicated sequences with the Pocket Salsa app.
ORIGIN New York City. Popular around the world.
Born in the borough of the Bronx, break dancing was created during the 1960s by street gangs who modified martial arts moves that were originally learned for defensive purposes.
Its popularity quickly spread across the United States, and break dancing is now an integral part of hip-hop culture. Start by stepping back in time and learning the fundamentals of old-school break dancing with moves such as the baby freeze, the running man, the smurf and the wop. If you head down the self-taught break dancing route, kindly do so with caution, but there are plenty of online studios dedicated to teaching the style, including Free Focus Dance on YouTube.
ORIGIN Angola. Also commonly danced throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
Slow and mesmerizingly romantic, Kizomba is performed in an extremely close embrace by two people in a loose ballroom hold. The rib cages of dancers touch for a majority of sequences, as they slowly travel in all directions via small steps, incorporating turns and body rolls in between. Kizomba’s relaxed nature makes it ideal for older dancers.
Created in Angola, the style — particularly in its song lyrics — is heavily influenced by the country’s long history with Portugal. Kizomba is traditionally danced in clubs and at parties held on the street or in someone’s home. While popular in Portugal among the Angolan community, the style also has a strong following in France, Spain, Poland, Belgium and Denmark. The World Kizomba Project, found online, offers five free beginner lessons and paid courses of higher difficulty.
ORIGIN Colombia. Also commonly danced throughout Central and South America.
Champeta emerged in the 1970s in Colombia’s coastal barrios, and made its way into the mainstream thanks to its addictive drumbeat rhythms and the celebratory nature of its moves. Its succinct steps are performed with bent knees, in a series of jumps and hops involving a quick transference of weight from side to side — you’ll need to be extremely quick on your feet for this one.
After the singer Shakira performed the dance during the halftime show at the 2020 Super Bowl, the “Champeta Challenge” swept social media globally. Learn champeta in preparation for music festivals, club gatherings or street parties — both impromptu and organized — like in Cartagena and Barranquilla. You can dance it alone, in a group or with a partner. The Colombian choreographer and dancer Jey Colon has a wide range of champeta tutorials on his YouTube channel.
Country Line Dancing
ORIGIN Europe and the United States. Danced widely throughout the United States.
Country line dancing takes its inspiration from English folk dancing and music, and evolved into its current form in the United States following the English settlement there.
Throughout the United States, you’ll find people in bars and clubs and at hoedowns arranging themselves in rows and dancing (and sometimes singing) to the same sequence of steps. Start by learning the cha-cha slide, tango with the sheriff and the cowboy hustle steps. The Idaho studio Dirt Road Dancing has a wide library of country-style line dances lessons available on its YouTube channel.
ORIGIN Punjab, India. Popular throughout India.
Bhangra makes up much of what you see in the dance scenes of Bollywood movies. Traditionally performed to the melodies of Indian folk instruments — and to lyrics of love, strength and patriotism — Bhangra is an expression of jubilation.
This style is danced in a group, commonly at weddings and cultural festivals, and combines jumps, hops, shoulder shakes and larger-than-life extensions of the limbs. It requires a high level of stamina and athleticism, and is a cardio workout that can leave you breathless. Look to Learn Bhangra, a group that runs free classes on its social media channels, to get started.
ORIGIN The Czech Republic. Commonly danced in Central and Eastern Europe, and the United States.
Polka is a series of lively, fast-traveling “half” jumps danced by couples, or a series of couples to form a group. It is a favorite in the beer halls of Central and Eastern Europe, and at weddings.
First danced by the lower classes of old Bohemia, polka eventually made its way into the grand ballrooms of Prague, the arenas of the country’s high society. The popularity of polka in the United States is the result of two-way travel — European migration to the United States and American soldiers serving in Europe during World War II.
Polka is an eeasy dance to learn. To give it a whirl, visit watch a two-minute polka tutorial on the how-to channel Howcast on YouTube.