Varying criteria have been used to differentiate folk dance from other kinds of dance: For example, the dancers are said to belong to a certain economic level or come from certain locales; the steps are simple and repeated, so that any member of the community can participate; the dances require no audience; and they are passed down through many generations. In each of these criteria, folk dance overlaps with other kinds of dance.
As folk dancing is found throughout the world, and it can be broadly defined, it varies in style and floor patterns. However, since most folk dances are meant for general participation, they tend to contain fairly simple movements composed of short phrases or patterns that are repeated many times.
A. Body Movement
In European dances, step patterns are emphasized, with little attention given to the upper body. In Asia, Africa, and Oceania, dance movements involve more parts of the body, or sometimes mainly the arms. Men's and women's movements are usually different: Men may stamp vigorously and execute spectacular leaps, as shown in the Norwegian haling. Women's styles are generally less energetic, calling for graceful movement, with smaller steps, and with fewer (and lower) jumps and kicks. Sometimes, however, as in American square dancing, men and women dance in the same style.
B. Floor Patterns
Many of the geometric designs in folk dance have symbolic meanings. A circle-possibly the most common dance formation-promotes feelings of unity among the dancers. Examples of circular dances include the Serbian kolo and the Romanian horal. Chain dances usually have a leader, and they may involve serpentine or spiral formations as well as straight-line patterns. The dancers may be aligned side by side, or they may follow one another, and they may or may not touch one another. If they touch, the contact can be made in various ways-holding hands, encircling waists or shoulders, grasping one another's belts (as in many Greek dances), or linking arms.
C. Dramatic Vestiges
References to stories are generally absent from folk dances; exceptions include the Hawaiian hula, the Maori action songs, and certain Indonesian dances in all of which the dancers' movements illustrate the stories being sung. Combat dances, clown dances, and hobbyhorse and animal dances are found in many parts of the world. Some of these dances have spread from one country to another; the Moro y cristianos dances of Native American Latin America, for example, have European antecedents. In other instances the dances seem to have developed independent of any external influences, as in the stick-combat dances of Egypt, New Zealand, and Britain.
D. Musical Accompaniment
Although not every folk dance requires
aural accompaniment, music is nearly always extremely important.
Many dances are intimately related to musical forms and, in
particular, to musical meter and rhythm. The waltz and mazurka,
for example, both have musical and step patterns in three beats;
in the mazurka, both the music and the steps emphasize the second
beat. Many European dances, especially those of the Balkan
countries, contain complex rhythms and syncopations.
The clothing worn by dancers may affect the nature of their movements. Japanese women, for example, are restricted by the tightness of their kimonos. On the other hand, the dancers can manipulate some elements of costume, such as full skirts, handkerchiefs, and capes, as is done in the cueca, a couple dance of Chile.
The visual appeal of a dance may be enhanced by brightly colored national costumes. Dress styles today have become fairly uniform worldwide, and people wear their everyday clothes when they dance, or for special occasions, perhaps don fancier versions of the same styles. Revived forms of folk dance, however, may be executed in traditional clothes, emphasizing the national origin of the dance; some dances, therefore, are recognized almost as much by their costumes as by their movements.
Folk Dance Benefits
Folk Dance therapy has a broad range of health benefits. It has been demonstrated to be clinically effective at improving body image, self-esteem, attentiveness, and communication skills. It can also reduce stress, fears and anxieties, as well as lessen feelings of isolation, body tension, chronic pain, and depression. In addition it can enhance the functioning of the body's circulatory and respiratory systems.
Dance therapy has also been shown to benefit adolescent and adult psychiatric patients, the learning disabled, the visually and hearing impaired, the mentally handicapped, and the elderly (especially those in the nursing homes).