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The Most Popular Dances Around the World + Their Origins

Dancing is an innate part of nature. From bees that use it to communicate, to some types of spiders and birds using it as part of a mating ritual, dancing is one of the purest forms of expression that goes beyond ourselves. In fact, even single-celled algae has been known to waltz! So when looking at how dance has evolved over time, it’s special to remember that, at its core, our dances are an inherent reflection of life.

Throughout our diverse global history, dance can be seen in every culture and time period. Whether for religious or celebratory purposes, to communicate stories or merely socialise, dance has adapted as we have. In some cases it has been a symbolism of freedom, or a means of cultural or emotional expression. Today, it can be anything from a momentary impulse to a trained art form, a type of exercise or entertainment. But, one of our favourite things about it is how in our interconnected world, we have access to cherish and blend each style, honouring its origin as we are united globally by the shared practise of dance.

So, here are some of the most popular dances around the world (we think you’ll be surprised by some of the origins of household names!):

  • Samba (Brazil)

Samba is both a musical genre and dance style, evolving in Rio de Janeiro in the early 20th century to become a symbol of Brazil and its Carnaval. It is said to have been brought from West Africa all the way back in the 16th century, but as reports “the term refers to a collection of dances that have evolved over several countries”, making it rich with history that is ultimately hard to trace. also characterises the dance as having “lively, rocking step combinations, rolling hip action, and pulsing movements both on the beat and in syncopation”. It can be danced with or without a partner, a unique feature on this list that makes it such a popular dance style all around the world. Those of you who are UCan2 dancers, what do you love about the Samba?

  • Salsa (Cuba)

Salsa blends elements from a range of Latin American, African, European and Caribbean influences, but its origins can be traced more specifically to Cuba, which has a rich musical history that made it a hub for different cultural influences. It is most easily defined by lively moves including elaborate spins, break steps and drops. It was popularised in the 1960s in New York, becoming the modern version most popular today. See some of our own dancers learning salsa here.

Fun Fact: Cuba was actually the origin of other popularised dances including the Rumba and Cha Cha Cha!

  • Foxtrot (US)

The Foxtrot originated in the early 20th century in New York. However, according to this Masterclass article, there is some blur when it comes to the exact origin. Some say it “first originated in Black American nightclubs” before being adopted by ballroom dancers, whereas others credit the entertainer Arthur Carringford, whose stage name was ‘Harry Fox’. In the Masterclass article, it is written that:

“In a 1914 musical at the New York Theatre, Fox caught the audience’s attention with his fast trotting steps across the dance floor. Ragtime music was playing in the background, and the dance became known as the ‘Fox’s trot.’” (Fitting, as the Foxtrot is one of my favourite Ballroom dances, and in the way-back-when of my name, I originate from the FOXes!!)

Whatever the true origin of the Fox's trot, the dance has since been slowed, making it a smooth combination of quick and slow steps, and leaves room for dancers to experiment with their own flare. 

A couple dancing Foxtrot. Auckland, New Zealand UCan2 Dance Classes

  • Bachata (Dominican Republic)

Taking inspiration from African rhythms and the unique Cuban music we mentioned earlier, Bachata is a type of dance that arose during the 20th century, but it wasn’t always popular. It was associated with rural poverty and considered too scandalous due to its sensual movements and intimate partner dancing, causing it to be banned in many places, including some parts of its origin country! In the mid-to-late 20th century, however, it had a resurgence, causing the dance to be highly popular today. It is now characterised by its blend of close partner dancing and open moves, including playful spins and footwork. You can read more interesting facts about Bachata here.

  • Waltz (Austria) 

Today there are multiple variations of the waltz (we see you, algae), but the Viennese Waltz is recounted as the original form, originating in Austria in the 13th century. This dance is characterised by the step, slide, step footwork pattern that enables a couple to revolve around a room together. In fact, as shares, the word ‘waltz’ is derived from a German word that means ‘to revolve’, directly relating to the action of the dance. It quickly spread across the world, becoming both adored and disliked due to the closeness of the dancing couple. According to Concert Vienna many dancing masters also considered it a threat to the dance profession. 

“Its basic steps could be learned in no time, as opposed to other court dances like minuet, which took a fair amount of time to learn and master”.

This could equally be the reason it got so popular in the first place, as it was a dance accessible to everyone, no matter their status.

  • Tango (Argentina)

The final dance we have on our list originated in 18th century Argentina from European immigrants, former slaves and lower-class people. As it spread throughout Europe, North America and beyond, it was altered by different influences and was finally deemed socially acceptable in the 1900s, centuries after its birth. Today, it is characterised by a close hold, dramatic attitude and playful movements, and has tens of thousands of participants in the Tango world championships alone. 

One similarity between these dances is that we teach them all! All of the above dances (and more!) are available to learn at our purpose-built dance studio on Auckland's North Shore, in Albany. So if you are in or around Auckland, New Zealand, see what is available for adults and kids and get involved. 

We are also now offering dance classes exclusively in Mandarin. So if you or anyone you know in our area wants to take dance classes but would feel more comfortable doing it in Mandarin, you can book now to have Mandarin-only lessons every Monday. We have courses available for Adults & Youth, and Kids & Teens, all run by our incredible teacher Bai Jing (Aila) and assisted by our wonderful Chia-I Liu. So please get in touch! We’d love to have you. 

Mandarin only dance classes in Auckland, New Zealand. UCan2 Dance studio

Happy learning everyone!



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