Dancing is intrinsic to human nature. Archeologists have found ancient cave paintings depicting dance rituals in prehistoric times, proving that dancing captivated humans long before Dancing With the Stars. Dancing is interwoven into many of our most cherished celebrations, from weddings to religious ceremonies. Many of these dances are unique to a particular culture, and while they’ve been performed for countless generations, these dances still elicit awe from outsiders who see them for the first time. Here are a few you might have missed.
10. Parikaoba (Georgia)
The Georgian national dance, this warrior ritual involves a man who must battle others with sword and shield to be with the woman he loves. By the way, the dance shown above was performed on the Georgian version of Dancing With the Stars (that show airs in dozens in countries). Playing the hero at center in the above image is Rati Tsiteladze, a former world kickboxing champion and one of the most popular entertainers in Georgia.
9. Kuda Lumping (Java)
A Kuda Lumping dancer rides his “horse” in a Kuda Lumping dance in Java. Kuda Lumping (literally meaning “flat horse”) involves a group of colorfully clad “horsemen” riding decorated horses made of bamboo. Certain types of Kuda Lumping go far beyond that tame display, with dancers eating broken glass or withstanding hot coals without pain.
8. Bagurumba (India)
Each April, the Bodo people of Northeastern India gather in Assam to celebrate the New Year. The celebration features Bagurumba, a folk dance performed by the Bodo women to appease the deity Bathou. As the dancers spread their arms, it’s easy to see why Bagurumba is known as the “butterfly dance.”
7. Intore (Rwanda)
In pre-colonial times, Rwandans performed the colorful Intore dance for the Tutsi king. Today, they do the ritual for tourists. This choreographed dance features men in long platinum blond wigs, women carrying baskets on their heads … and plenty of drums. Rwanda is one of those off-the-beaten-path tourist destinations in Africa, but anyone who has spent time in the country tracking the rare mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park can attest to its natural beauty. And the Intore is an unforgettable experience to end the day.
6. Barong (Bali)
This Balinese dance has a fascinating mythology, involving the good lion-like spirit of Barong battling the evil demon queen spirit of Rangda. What it translates into on stage are the two masked spirits facing off, with the demon queen Rangda casting a spell on knife-wielding male dancers, who then turn their daggers inward toward their stomachs, ready to commit suicide; Barong intervenes to give them invulnerability to sharp objects. Yes, dancers have accidentally injured themselves with their sharp blades.
5. Khon (Thailand)
Asian culture has given rise to many forms of fascinating dance drama, including the popular Kabuki style in Japan. Although not as well known as Kabuki, Thailand’s dance, Khon, gets the mention here for the colorful, bizarre masks worn by performers. Actors must undergo years of training to be able to handle the mix of dancing and acrobatics involved in Khon. Traditionally performed in the Thai king’s court, the practice has been preserved in the 21st century through public performances.
4. Concheros (Mexico)
A number of different folk dances are performed in Mexico, none more colorful than the Concheros dance in Central Mexico. Dancers in body paint and elaborate headdresses and costumes dance to drum and flute music. The dance is also now performed in parts of the United States with large Mexican-American communities.
3. Samba (Brazil)
This distinctively Brazilian dance dates to the late 19th century, but is more popular today than ever, thanks to performances by Samba dancers around the world, and frequent appearances on, yes, Dancing With the Stars. Women enjoy it for the rhythm and colorful outfits. Men seem to like it because … well, just take a look at those outfits.
2. Haka (Maori of New Zealand)
A traditional war dance of the Maori of New Zealand, this striking ritual has become well known around the world, thanks in part to performances by several New Zealand sports teams before international competitions. Take a group of scantily clad males, get them to shout, dance, stomp their feet, roll their eyes and stick out their tongues — Haka is definitely unique. Haka has also been performed by flash mobs in London and embraced as a pregame ritual by many sports teams around the world, a trend that Maori leaders criticize for devaluing the ritual.
1. Dragon Dance (China)
The best-known dance in this story, you’ve undoubtedly seen the dragon dance being performed during Chinese New Year celebrations both in China and the United States. Why the dragon? In ancient Chinese culture, the dragon was said to have mythical powers over rainfall, so evoking the dragon’s image was thought to help in times of drought.