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Art to Heart

Dance Styles

People dance for many reasons. In some cultures, specific dances are part of a ceremony or religious ritual. Artistic dances are dances created as works of art to express ideas, images, or feelings. Recreation and social interaction are another reason people dance; these types of dances may include folk/traditional or ethnic dances as well as ballroom styles of dance.

A variety of dance styles are mentioned or shown in Program 4 of Art to Heart:

African Dance

In the series, Diadie Bathily teaches young children at a St. Louis elementary school a traditional dance from Mali, the Jansa.

In West Africa, dance is as much a part of the culture as working, playing, and celebrating. Dance is not just an artistic expression; it is an important way to commemorate special occasions and rites of passages. For example, the Jansa is a ceremonial dance honoring the family.

The rhythms of African dance are at the root of many contemporary American dances, from tap dance to hip-hop.


Art to Heart visits the Ballet Babies class at the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis. Ballet is a form of classical dance—a dance that has developed over time into highly stylized structures and forms. Ballet began in the 17th century in France. Like artistic dances in general, ballets tell stories, express ideas or emotions, or respond to music.

Although contemporary ballet choreographers blend classical ballet with more modern forms to keep it fresh and alive, ballet is marked by certain conventions. A classical ballet dancer undergoes formal training that can be very grueling, requiring perfection of positions and a variety of movements. Female dancers often dance en pointe (on their toes). Male dancers are known for their amazing leaps. The physical demands and stresses on the body are one reason the teacher at COCA emphasizes the story aspect with her youngest students and recommends waiting until a child is older to start her en pointe.

Folk/Traditional Dances

Art to Heart features traditional/folk dances in Berea, KY and at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, where young children learn a Mexican Hat Dance.

Folk/traditional dances are usually created and performed by a specific group within a culture. These dances generally originated outside the court or circle of power within a society. Some traditional American dances include reels and square dances. The Mexican Hat dance is also an example of an ethnic dance, a dance associated with a specific culture.

Modern Dance

In the Art to Heart program, Louisville teacher Audra White teaches youngsters a variety of dances, including modern dance. Modern dance was developed in the early 1900s by dancers who wanted to break away from the strict traditions and structures of ballet to a form of movement that allowed more freedom of movement. For example, Martha Graham, one of the early modern dance choreographers, thought it was ridiculous for people to dance on their toes and rotate their legs into the unnatural turned-out position of classical ballet.

There is no one modern dance technique; instead, choreographers explore various ways of moving. Modern dancers usually perform barefoot and make use of the whole torso. By the 1990s, the distinctions between modern dance and ballet were not as rigid as they once were. Today you’ll often find performance dances combining elements of modern dance and ballet.

In the segment, White’s students also perform jazz dance honoring the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz dance is intimately connected to jazz music. Jazz began as a social dance form in the 1920s with dances such as the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, and the Big Apple, but evolved to become a performance art as well. Tap dance is another artistic form of jazz dance. In this percussive dance, the dancers create rhythms with their feet and wear metal taps on their shoes. Tap dance is also an example of how the dances of cultures blend to become a new art form. Tap dance borrows from West African dance and music as well as from Irish step dance and English clogging.

These are just a few of the many styles of dance. Every culture has dances associated with its own traditions.

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