History of International Folk Dance
History of International Folk Dance History of International Folk Dance

International folk dance is a genre of dance wherein selected folk dances from multiple ethnic groups are done by the same dancers, typically as part of a regular recreational dance club, for performances or at other events.

The dances are typically considered the products of national or cultural traditions rather than part of an international tradition. International folk dancers need not be a member of any particular ethnicity.

It is done for various purposes, typically for preservation, recreation, or performance. Groups that dance for different purposes tend to do dances differently, and to select different dances. Recreational dancers select and tend to alter the dances (often unintentionally) according to their own tastes, and as a result of the changes that inevitably occur as dances are passed on from one person to the next.

Performers typically prefer dramatic, flamboyant, or athletic dances, and they often tend to dance with stylized techniques and exaggerated movements. Dances for performances are usually selected and choreographed for presentation on stage.

Nevertheless there is substantial overlap between the dances done for recreation and performance. Some dancers of both types are often concerned with the preservation of a dance for its cultural value.

Some recreational international folk dance groups also perform dances not strictly considered folk dances. These are dances which are choreographed, or are aristocratic in nature. Choreographed modern Israeli folk dancing is often incorporated into international folk dance repertoire.

International folk dance developed in the immigrant communities of the United States of America during the first half of the 20th century. Traditional dances such as branles, polkas, quadrilles and others have been done internationally for hundreds of years; however, the creation of international folk dance as such is often attributed to Vytautas Beliajus, a Lithuanian-American who studied, taught, and performed dances from various ethnic traditions in the 1930s. Other prominent teachers and promoters of international folk dance in its first few decades included Michael Herman and Mary Ann Herman, Jane Farwell, and Dick Crum.

International folk dance has grown into a large community of dancers, performing groups and recreational folk dance clubs throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and other countries. Dance festivals and conventions are held year-round. Dance "camps" or workshops invite teachers to instruct dancers in dances from many traditions. These groups usually focus on European dances, but the international folk dance repertoire may include dances from every part of the world: Europe, Africa, North and South America, the Middle East, the Far East, Australia and the South Pacific.

Disagreements exist within the recreational folk dance community. Perhaps the greatest of these is how dances should be performed. Dancers generally believe (if one has an opinion at all), that either 1) dancers should strive to perform the dances traditionally, adhering as closely as possible to the original pattern and styling of the dance or dance tradition in their country of origin, or 2) that folk dancing should be allowed to evolve, and that each international folk dance club represents another "village" where dances can take on their own style or modifications.

Betty Casey, International Folk Dancing U.S.A., Doubleday, New York, 1981.
Mirjana Lauševic, Balkan Fascination, Oxford University Press, 2007.
An extended annotated bibliography can be found at

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain. -Maya Angelou

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