3 mins

The world's most intricate dances – and where to learn them

Dance is more than just entertainment – it can help you get under the skin of a place. Tap into the roots of these destinations through their dances – and rejuvenate your own dancefloor repertoire too...

10 of the world's most intricate dances (Shutterstock: see credit below)

1. Merengue in the Dominican Republic

The national dance of the Dominican Republic, merengue first appeared in the late 18th century. Slaves who worked in the sugar beet fields used to sing in unison while they shuffled in ankle chains – a brief distraction, perhaps, from the humiliation and exhaustion of their living conditions. The movement of lugging along each other along was combined with the rhythm of their vocals and the percussion of their tools – and the merengue was born.

2. Salsa in Cuba

Just like the spicy sauce of the same name, salsa dancing is a concoction of different dance ingredients, most notably the Cuban Son (with a dash of cha-cha and mambo). There are a number of different styles, one of which includes dancing in a circle with a number of other people – called rueda, Spanish for 'wheel'.

If you're inspired by the sexy confidence that salseros radiate, try Intrepid's 22-day adventure around Cuba, including an informal salsa lesson and a trip to the Che Guevara museum.

Or, take a trip with Tucan Travel, whose Cuban Rhapsody itinerary includes agricultural trips to cacao and tobacco farms.

3. Samba in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The epitome of Brazilian identity, samba (specifically, samba no pé) is an intimate part of Rio's Carnaval – think bedazzled bikinis, bare midriffs, oscillating hips and plumage so colourful it would put any peacock to shame.

Like the merengue, samba has its roots in the West African slave trade. It was popularised in the West in the '40s by Carmen Miranda, a Brazilian actress still remembered today for her signature fashion accessory – a hat piled with fruit trimmings.

If you've mastered your samba and want to feel like a true Latino (or Latina), Intrepid's 6-day tour will take you to the biggest dance fest of the year – Rio's Carnaval, of course!

4. Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina

As opposed to the feisty nature of salsa, the tango is known for its intensity and dramatic flair. The birth-child of Buenos Aires, the tango spread to Paris during the early 1900s, where well-off Argentine families emigrated with their skills – as well as their sons, who promptly began to teach the local ladies.

The Argentine style is danced in a closed position; to untrained eyes, the dancers might seem to be hugging each other whilst gliding along the floor to music. This chest-to-chest contact increases communication between dancers and allows a natural ebb-and-flow to emerge in the movement.

If you're worn out from practising and prefer to rest your feet, try World Expeditions' half-day city tour of Buenos Aires, finished off with a dinner and tango show.

5. Bellydance in Istanbul, Turkey

Known as oryantal in Turkey, bellydancing is another dance that involves glittering bikinis and undulating hips. Although bellydancing tends to be performed by women, male bellydancers do exist and are fascinating to watch.

Turkish bellydancers also play zills, small hand-held cymbals that are played as an accompaniment to the music. The performance tends to be lively and energetic, involving floor-work and acrobatic moves, and is social in nature, danced by people of all shapes and sizes rather than reserved for performance by professionals.

6. Céilidh in Edinburgh, Scotland

Danced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the 1997 film Titanic, céilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is a group dance that comes from the Gaelic-speaking regions of Ireland and Scotland. Today danced at weddings, as well as at most official events, the dance involves simple steps performed by groups of people (usually in a circle) to lively, upbeat music.

A short lesson for first-timers is usually held before each céilidh, and kilts or other forms of traditional costume may be worn during the more prestigious celebrations.

7. Flamenco in Andalucia, Spain

Plucked guitar strings, wailing vocals, rhythmic hand-clapping and the fierce tapping of heels – these are what constitute el baile flamenco. Rooted in the gypsy culture of the Roma people, who migrated from northern India hundreds of years ago, the seed of flamenco's footwork may be in the Hindu dance known as kathak, according to several flamencologists (academics dedicated to the academic study of flamenco).

Today, flamenco is still a key part of Andalucian culture, and is performed on stage as well as in smaller community gatherings. Sevillianas is the lightest, most graceful form of flamenco, whereas taconeo is a forceful – almost frenzied – dance.

Peregrine's Trails of Andalucia tour is an 8-day walking trip through southern Spain, which includes a visit to the Grazalema National Park as well as a flamenco performance. 

8. Bharatanatyam in Tamil Nadu, India

In Hindu mythology, Nataraja, the Lord of Dance and a manifestation of Lord Shiva, performs a cosmic dance which begins the process of the creation of the universe; bharatanatyam celebrates this event through the body.

Dance in general was considered to be a physical, visual manifestation of music by Hindus and was traditionally practised by women called Devadasi, who dedicated themselves to dance and other artistic traditions in praise of the gods. Today, bharatanatyam is out of the temples and on the stage, performed by both men and women.

Bharanatyam is performed around India, and Songlines Music Travel offers the chance to experience Sattriya classical dance (a specific style within Bharatanatyam) in the state of Assam, during the spring festival of Bihu.

9. Waltz in Vienna, Austria

The waltz conjures up images of elegant ladies gliding gracefully around the ballroom with their tuxedo-clad partners. Yet in Austria and Bavaria, where it was first danced in the late 1700s, it was outlawed, as the idea of a man having his arm intimately hooked around a lady's waist was so scandalous.

Today there are many different styles of waltz, from the vals criollo style in Peru to the cross-step in France; yet the Viennese waltz typically associated with ballroom dance remains the most well-known, made famous by Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube.

Abercrombie & Kent offer a ten-day cruise along the Danube river, with stops in Germany, Slovakia, Turkey and Austria, including a waltz lesson and a concert at the Kursalon, where Strauss directed his orchestra in the 19th century.

10. Lindy Hop in New York, USA

In 1927, the first ever solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris was accomplished by Charles Lindbergh. He became so popular for his 'hop' across the Atlantic that people started naming things after him – including the dance that was quickly spreading around New York.

The Lindy Hop was a revolution that broke through the barrier of race segregation in Harlem, New York. The Savoy ballroom, the 'birthplace' of the dance, was one of the world's first racially-integrated dance halls.

Main image: Couple dancing tango in Argentina (Shutterstock)

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