All around the world, dance is an integral part of many cultures, and it plays a huge role in many people’s lives. Aside from being a great way to stay fit, dance is also a way to express yourself and communicate with others, and in many ways it can be seen as a universal language. 

Global dance styles vary enormously – from European folk dances to the African-inspired dances of Latin America – and all offer something a bit different.

If you’re curious about different dance styles from around the world (and perhaps would like to have a go yourself!), here are nine different dance styles to get you inspired.

1. Samba, Brazil

Samba, Brazil

All across the world, samba is synonymous with the Rio Carnival. Although this Brazilian dance is actually rooted in West African music, dance, and cultural traditions.

After Congolese and Angolan slaves were brought to Brazilian sugar plantations during the Portuguese colonisation, the samba was born – and the word “samba” actually comes from the Angolan word “semba”, which means “invitation to dance”.

When the slaves were freed, they moved into favelas and formed their own dance groups to continue their traditions. It was around this time that they began performing the samba during carnival celebrations – most notably the Rio de Janeiro Carnival.

Today, the samba is Brazil’s national dance, and it’s associated with flamboyant costumes, fast footwork and hip movements, and an intoxicating rhythm that makes you want to get up and move.

There are more than seven different variations of the samba, and some involve solo dance and others with partners – though all are accompanied by samba music. This is a fast and upbeat style of music that usually involves drums, tambourines, and guitars. Solo samba steps include foot slides, weight shifting, quick footwork, and arms that mirror leg and hip movements.

If you’re interested in learning the samba, there are many different samba schools and classes across the UK – simply have a Google and see what’s close to you.

If there aren’t any classes near where you live or you’d prefer to learn from the comfort of your own home, there are hundreds of online tutorials. If you’re happy to pay for classes, check out City Academy’s online samba courses, or for free online classes, head over to YouTube.

To get inspired, why not watch John Whaite and Johannes Radebe performing a Samba on the 2021 series of Strictly Come Dancing?

2. Flamenco, Spain

Flamenco, Spain

One of the most famous dances around the world has got to be flamenco, which originated in Spain’s Andalusia region around 500 years ago. It’s believed that the dance originated when two different cultures and people merged: the Andalusian Roma, who migrated to Spain from Northern India, and the Moorish and Jewish influence of the local Andalusian people.

After a time, flamenco became the national dance of Spain, and these days it’s not just popular in Spain but all around the world – particularly in the US and Japan (in Japan, there are more flamenco schools than there are in Spain!). Flamenco dance is very passionate, and when combined with music, it tells a story – although the dance movements are usually improvised.

Flamenco dancers use their hands, feet, arms, and facial expressions to communicate, and while  men’s flamenco movements tend to feature elaborate toe and heel tapping, women’s movements usually include graceful hand and body movements. Both forms of flamenco incorporate foot stomping, finger clicking, clapping, and shouting to express the passionate themes.

If you’re interested in learning flamenco dance and would like to go to a class, head over to Dance Near Me to see if there are any classes near you.

Or, if you’d like to learn online, there are many free flamenco tutorials on YouTube – though you can also try a free class on Flamenco Bites. If you’re serious about learning flamenco, you might also want to check out one of City Academy’s courses.

For more inspiration, check out the video below.

3. Azonto, Ghana

Azonto, Ghana

Azonto is a Ghanian communicative dance that’s become a worldwide phenomenon. Though Azonto shot to popularity in 2011, it’s believed its origins stem from traditional African dances focused on communication. The adowa dance, for example, was developed by the Akan people of Ghana, and was all about communicating their emotions through their hands and feet movements.

Azonto first took off in the Ghananian capital Accra, particularly in the fishing community Jamestown, and it soon spread across Ghana, and then other African communities across the world. Because it was so popular with young people, social media was responsible for just how big the azonto craze became, but unlike other short-lived dance phenomena like the macarena or Gangnam style, azonto continues to grow in popularity across the world.

While there are basic leg movements, part of the fun of azonto is that you can do whatever you like. The hand gestures are focused on communicating the ordinary elements of daily life – from describing what you do for a living to expressing what it is you’re feeling in that moment – though the movements are often related to the music that’s playing. You can communicate whatever you like… the only requirement is that you do it with attitude!

Because of its popularity on social media, there are hundreds of azonto dance videos on YouTube – from basic tutorials to fun and inspirational videos that will show you just how far this dance craze has come.

To learn more about Azonto and see some of the basic steps, have a watch of the video below.

4. Bhangra, India

Bhangra dance originated in the late 19th century in India’s Punjab region, where it was performed by Sikh and Muslim men. Traditionally, the dance was associated with the spring harvest festival Baisakhi – and the name “bhangra” actually comes from the word “bhang”, which means hemp – one of the main crops of the harvest.

Synonymous with fun and flamboyance, the bhangra was being performed at weddings and parties by the mid-20th century, and its popularity soon spread. As millions of Punjabi people left India for other countries – most notably the UK – they brought their culture with them, and it was in the UK that bhangra music and dance began to evolve. As bhangra music drew upon Western influences, the choreography evolved, and it eventually became the contemporary bhangra that’s popular today.

Bhangra dancers wear bright, colourful clothes and the choreography is fluid and energetic. There are many different styles and forms of bhangra dance, but typically dancers perform many vigorous kicks, leaps, and bends of the body in time to the drumming. Other forms of athleticism, such as gymnastics and Gatka, a Sikh martial art form, are also often incorporated.

If you’re interested in learning bhangra, you might want to download the Learn Bhangra app, where you can sign up for workshops, attend classes all around the world (and find ones near you), and watch online videos and tutorials. YouTube also has many free online bhangra classes and courses.

To learn more about bhangra and see what it looks like, have a watch of the video below.

5. Breakdance, USA

Breakdance, USA

There are many different styles of hip hop, but breakdance is the oldest and best known. Breakdance originated in New York City in the late 1960s, and by the early 1970s, it had become popular with both African American and Puerto Rican young people. Thought to have been inspired by the energetic performances of James Brown, break dancing is one of the most athletic dances styles in the world.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that breakdancing really took off, when popular artists like Michael Jackson started featuring elements of it in their choreography – and due to the media interest in it, it soon spread to the rest of the world. Breakdancing incorporates coordination and acrobatic body movements, and the emphasis is on energy, movement, and creativity.

Breakdancing can be choreographed and performed in groups, but it’s usually performed solo and is largely improvisational. There are many different variations of standard breakdancing moves or steps, like freezes, toprock, power moves, and downrock, and many dances include complex footwork and athletic moves like back spins or head spins.

If you’d like to learn how to breakdance and are interested in going to a class, head over to Dance Near Me to see if there are any classes near you. If you’re happy to pay for classes, check out Udemy’s range of breakdancing courses, or head over to Steezy.

Otherwise, YouTube is packed with inspirational breakdancing videos. To see a group of men age 50+ defying stereotypes around breakdancing and youth, have a watch of the video below.

6. Raqs sharqi, Middle East

Raqs sharqi, Middle East

Raqs sharqi – or belly dancing, as it’s more commonly known – is a Middle Eastern dance form that’s practiced by women. Raqs sharqi is thought to have originated in Egypt in the sixth century, when the Dom people (believed to be related to the Roma) left India for Northern Africa. Among them was a group of nomadic female dancers called the Ghawazi, who developed the foundations of raqs sharqi.

Much later, in the 19th century, the Ghawazi were viewed as gypsies and banished from Cairo, and once they moved north, to the Middle East, they began to develop their dancing style, drawing upon elements from folk dance, ballet, and Latin dance. Originally practised by women to celebrate femininity and fertility, belly dancing has since been embraced worldwide.

In spite of the name, belly dancing isn’t only danced with the belly but the whole body, and it requires extreme control of multiple body parts at the same time. Raqs sharqi is a solo dance which focuses on arm, head, and torso movements over leg or feet movements. And while abdominal waves do occur, they’re not the main focus. The most important aspect of the dance is the overall rhythmic interplay of the body with the accompanying music.

Belly dancing is a great way to stay fit, and there are many courses and classes you can join.

You might want to check out City Academy’s belly dancing courses in London, or if you’re based elsewhere or want to learn online, check out Udemy’s Art of Belly Dance course. For free online tutorials, head over to YouTube.

For more inspiration, you might also want to check out the performance below from belly dancer, Helena Vlahos.

7. Irish step dance, Ireland

Irish step dance, Ireland

There are many types of Irish dance, but the most famous is Irish step dance. This dance is characterised by a stiff upper body, which allows the audience to focus on the complexity of the foot movements.

It’s believed Irish step dancing was inspired by the Celts, who performed pagan dances in a circle that involved foot tapping – and when the Normans arrived in the 12th century, their ‘carole’ dance provided further influence.

By the 1700s, ‘dance masters’ travelled throughout Ireland teaching different dancing styles, and once the Gaelic League formed in 1893 after years of British rule, promoting Irish culture became of new importance. This is when Irish dancing really took off, and Irish dancing competitions became commonplace. In the 1990s, after the show Riverdance featuring Michael Flatley was performed, Irish dancing was brought to global attention.

There are two main Irish dancing techniques: ballet up, where the weight is mostly on the balls of the feet, and flat down, where the weight is mostly in the heels. Ballet up borrows certain ballet steps like the ‘chasse’, where the dancer steps with the right foot and then the left leg chases the right for three counts. For flat up, the dancer shuffles their right foot once they strike the floor, and then jumps into the air with the left foot.

If you’re keen to get into Irish dance, head over to the World Irish Dance website to see which schools and classes are closest to you. If you’d like to do an online course, have a look at Udemy’s Irish Dance for Beginners Course, or check out YouTube for some free tutorials.

You can also have a watch of the video below to see what an Irish dance routine looks like.

8. Salsa, Cuba

Salsa, Cuba

Though salsa was popularised by the Puerto Rican community in New York City, it actually originated in Eastern Cuba when several different musical rhythms were combined. The Son, Mamba, Cha Cha Cha, and Rumba merged to create the foundations of a rhythm that would be later known as salsa, and this rhythm moved west to Havana, and then in the 1950s, across the ocean to New York City.

It was in the USA that salsa began to change and evolve. Cuban musicians were inspired by American jazz, and several different styles emerged. Today, Salsa styles include ‘New York’, which infused themes from genres like jazz and R&B; ‘Casino’, which is the Cuban style; ‘Miami’, which incorporated backward diagonal moves; ‘Cali’, a Colombian style which focuses on footwork; and ‘L.A’, a newer style that’s known for theatricality.

Basic salsa follows a four beat rhythm, where three steps are made for each beat and one beat is skipped. The steps can be from side to side or backwards and forwards, and are always danced in circles. Salsa is danced facing your partner, and both partners should try to keep their upper body straight while moving their hips as much as possible.

There are many salsa schools and classes across the UK – just head over to Dance Near You to find your nearest class. Due to its popularity, there are also thousands of free online salsa courses and classes on YouTube, so it’s worth having a browse to see which videos appeal to you.

To see a salsa in action, check out the video of dancers Paddy and Nico performing on the 2019 series of Britain’s Got Talent.

9. Polka, Czech

Polka, Czech

Polka is another dance that totally transcended its origins. Originally a peasant dance, polka has its roots in Bohemia, which is the present-day Czech Republic.

The word “polka” comes from the Czech word for “half-step”, which refers to the polka’s customary three quick steps and a hop. By the 1830s, polka had become popular with upper class Czech people too, and it didn’t take long before it grew wildly popular.

After being introduced to ballrooms in Prague in 1835 and Paris in 1840, the polka soon reached the UK, and then, the US, where it became adopted by Polish Americans as their national dance. To this day, polka is one of the few 19th-century dances that’s still hugely popular all over the world – it’s even the official dance of Wisconsin, USA, where there’s a large Polish community.

The polka is a dance that requires a partner, and each dancer must synchronise their steps in time. The basic steps of Polka include a triple step, which is one full step that’s quickly followed by two half steps, where one leg ‘chases’ the other. It’s a fast, uptempo dance that’s meant to be danced confidently, with the couple quickly rotating in circles around the dance floor.

In-person polka lessons are hard to come by in the UK, but because this isn’t a difficult dance, there’s no reason you can’t learn by yourself – though ideally you’ll have a partner or friend to help you out! Have a read of this How to Polka guide to find out more about the exact steps, or watch the video below to get inspired.

Final thoughts…

Dance isn’t only a great way to keep fit and stay active, it’s also one of the most enjoyable ways to experience new cultures. Plus, dancing is a great way to boost your mood and express yourself!

Whether you’re drawn to Latin-inspired rhythms, African beats, or Irish folk dances, the beauty of dance is its diversity and inclusivity – and while these nine dance styles give you an idea of how dance changes across the world, there are hundreds of different dances you can get involved with.

To find out more about online dance classes you can try, check out our article; 11 online dance classes for beginners.