Immerse Yourself in a Nation’s Culture Through Dance

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Image: Zac Ong

The plethora of options you have when traveling can be quite overwhelming. Amid the choices, music and dance stand out as a good way for travelers to embrace a country’s culture. It’s an authentic way to understand a nation’s heritage and history, while also enjoying the performance unfold before you (and joining in, if the situation allows it). 

In this article, we’ll be looking at four different countries around the world and the dances that define aspects of their culture.

The storytelling of hip hop

Hip hop is a cultural movement that originated in urban minority communities in the United States, primarily in New York. It started gaining attention in the 1980s and 1990s, and has now become a dominant culture in the country. The most prominent dance associated with the subculture is breakdancing. Performances like A Rap on Race have become a means to tell the story of race and ethnicity in the US through dance and theater.

While one way of immersing in hip hop is through watching a performance, another is through taking classes yourself. Check out dance studios near where you’ll be staying to see if they offer hip hop classes. Taking a class is a fun way to stay active while learning a new culture at the same time.

The symbolism of the haka

The haka has been made world famous by the New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks, but the roots of the tradition came from the Maoris, an indigenous tribe in New Zealand. The haka is a spine-tingling symbol of Maori culture that involves chanting, stomping of the feet and aggressive facial expressions. It was traditionally used as a war cry, something warriors performed before going into battle. Now, the haka is performed at a variety of special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, funerals and other celebratory occasions. There are various places where you can watch a live haka in New Zealand, such as a trip to one of the Maori villages. The experience is well worth it, since you can expect to be totally immersed in their indigenous culture while you’re there.

The fanfare of soccer

Watching a soccer match in England isn’t just about the game. The experience of being in a stadium filled with English soccer fans is a treat in itself. The energy throughout the match is due to the echoing chants and the celebratory dancing, and this is what makes the sport an integral part of English culture. Ladbroke’s article on music and soccer explains how songs brings out the game’s fanfare in all its glory. DW discusses how British soccer fan songs are particularly famous, and you’ll often catch the fans singing a tune most-associated with the club playing—win or lose. Moreover, you can’t go to an English match without meeting a new friend, since spectators often bond over being in such a high energy environment. Soccer is considered one of England’s cultural touchstones, and whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, watching a match and joining in with the celebrations is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

The heritage of Thai dancing

While the diverse country offers multiple forms of Thai dancing, they’re roughly divided into two categories: classical and folk. All around Bangkok, there are various places where you can watch Thai dances. The National Theater offers Khon, a type of dance involving masks and colorful costumes. It’s traditionally only performed by men, with a narrator providing context to scenes based off the religious text Ramayana. The Lakhon on the other hand is performed by groups of female dancers who use dance as a means of storytelling. Watching dances is a must if ever you find yourself in Thailand, as it’s best way to learn about their culture, history, and heritage.

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