Dance knows no boundaries and needs no translation. In a new country far from home, when words fail, dance can help form deep connections across cultures and peoples. It doesn’t need a language—all the traveller has to do is plug into the myriad rhythms. Here is a list of eight dancing holidays: from Argentina, where the streets are an endless stage for tango, to Istanbul, where nights by the glittering Bosphorus belong to belly dancers. In Mumbai, the movies come alive with the thumkas of Bollywood dance, while ancient myths and fables inspire the traditional dances of Bali. Put on your dancing shoes and shimmy, shake, and roll across the world.
FIRST STEPS It is no coincidence that the Spanish word for sauce and an equally spicy dance is the same. Salsa dancing developed among the Latino communities of New York in the 1970s, mixing mambo, cha-cha, and other Latin American dances with African rhythms and the Big Apple vibe. Every country in South America has its own salsa style, with Colombia ruling the roost as the world’s salsa capital.
TOP TRACKS Classic numbers like “Quimbara” by Celia Cruz and chartbusters like Ricky Martin’s “Maria” or Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.”
MOVIE MAGIC Hollywood has a longstanding love for salsa. El Cantante (2006) based on the life of legendary salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, and Dance With Me (1998) starring Vanessa Williams showcase some pretty sassy moves.
DRESS TO KILL Sparkly dresses and heels are favoured by female dancers. The men usually opt for fitted trousers with shiny black jazz shoes.
GO DANCE The best time for a dance holiday is during the annual World Salsa Festival in September in Cali, considered Colombia’s salsa capital. Daily lessons are offered at the Sondeluz dance academy (www.sondeluz.co; 1-hr class $25/Rs 1,670, 12 classes $200/Rs 13,350) or Sabor Manicero academy (+57-3152894040; 2-hr class $12/Rs 800, 16 classes $80/Rs 5,340).
FIRST STEPS With its dramatic arm movements, finger snapping, twirling, clapping, and fast footwork, flamenco dancing is all duende or “soul.” Embodying the intense passion and free spirit of the Romani gypsies, this Andalusian dance form requires a certain emotional maturity. That is why it is believed that flamenco dancers come into their own well into their thirties or even later.
DRESS TO KILL The magnificence of a flamenco dancer in her flame-coloured ruffled dress, known as the traje de flamenco, is beyond compare. Traditionally men wore white shirts with high-waisted pants. Today, many of them perform the flamenco bare-chested and overall the costumes for both men and women are less structured and more comfortable.
TOP TRACKS Dance to the smouldering Spanish classic “Besame Mucho” or do a modern flamenco step-and-clap routine to “Senorita” from the 2011 Bollywood film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
GO DANCE Responsible Travel offers a 5-day holiday in Granada that includes flamenco dance as well as Spanish language classes (www.responsibletravel.com; €330/Rs 24,006; includes lessons only; two Flamenco dance sessions of 1.5 hours each). GoLearnTo has a 7-day flamenco holiday in Seville (statravelusa.golearnto.com; from $293/Rs 18,951; includes lessons only; five sessions of two hours each).
FIRST STEPS Imagine epic tales and fables from the Ramayana and Mahabharata told through dance, with masked warriors prancing about the stage with gods and monsters, kings and queens. Traditional Balinese dance with its swift eye movements and complex hand and foot work is an ancient and dramatic art form. Costumes and sets are elaborate for these dances that do service as both sacred ritual and local entertainment.
DRESS TO KILL Brightly coloured sashes, sparkling beaded collars, leather necklaces, wrist and arm bands, and golden headgear adorn the dancers’ traditional costumes.
TOP TRACKS Dances are usually performed to a percussion-heavy orchestra featuring the rhythmic sounds of the gambang (a xylophone-like instrument with wooden bars), gongs, two-headed drums, and cymbals. These together with other wind and string instruments form the gamelan, the traditional Balinese ensemble.
GO DANCE Mekar Bhuana Gamelan Music and Dance centre offers workshops, short courses, and regular classes in traditional dances and gamelan music (www.balimusicanddance.com; workshops from $89/Rs 5,940; 1-hr class $22/Rs 1,470, 6 classes $155/Rs 10,345). Arma Museum and Resort also offers a basic workshop (www.armabali.com; 2-hr class $25/Rs 1,680).
FIRST STEPS From a tiny archipelago in the mid-Atlantic, a dance and music revolution is slowly taking over the world. The snappy and rhythmic kizomba has its roots in traditional African and Caribbean dances. Its unstructured and sensual form with an emphasis on sashaying hips has made it a popular way to socialise and let your hair down in Cape Verde and beyond.
TOP TRACKS Just like salsa, kizomba has its own music which mixes up African rhythms with a Caribbean sound. Dance floor favourites include “Something Going On” by Congolese singer Kaysha and C4 Pedro’s “Tu És a Mulher.”
DRESS TO KILL From fitted jeans with boots to skirts and heels, kizomba costumes for women are all about sensuality, comfort, and accentuating the sashaying hip movements integral to the dance. Men prefer well-fitted smart casuals.
GO DANCE Kizomba Holiday Africa promotes kizomba festivals in Europe (www.kizombaholidayafrica.com; approx €1,640/Rs 1,22,223 excluding flights; includes accommodation, meals, and dance lessons). MD Entertainments’ 6-day “Spirit of Cape Verde” holiday includes a vibrant nightlife experience and is happening next in October 2017 (www.mdentertainments.org; from € 1099/Rs 79,952; excluding flights; includes 20 hrs of dance classes and sightseeing).
FIRST STEPS Some say that the biblical Salome’s dance of the seven veils was probably a version of the seductive belly dance, so powerful that it culminated in John the Baptist’s beheading. Whatever the truth, this mesmerizing dance of the desert is believed to have existed since the days of the Roman Empire. Performed by women alone, it is popular across the Middle East, pushing the boundaries of freedom in conservative cultures. Despite variations across countries, most belly dances are performed with quick shimmies, undulating movements of the torso, and rapid spins.
DRESS TO KILL Belly dancers wear the sumptuous bedlah, a sequinned cropped top accompanied by a long skirt or harem pants. A belt is tied around the hips, heavily embellished with coins and other jewels.
TOP TRACKS Shimmy to Lebanese-Armenian singer Nourhanne’s “Habibi Ya Eini” or home-grown classics like “Mehbooba” from Sholay (1975).
GO DANCE Unison Turkey offers belly dancing holidays in Istanbul which includes lessons as well as sightseeing (www.unisonturkey.com; from €649/Rs 48,323 for a 2 night/3 day itinerary, including accommodation, no meals). Awaken Holidays offers a belly dancing holiday along Turkey’s Aegean Coast (www.awakenholidays.com; from $1,450/Rs 97,164 for 8 days/7 nights per person including accommodation and meals).
FIRST STEPS Dance is integral to Bollywood. There’s even a special name—item number—for a peppy song that can rescue a terrible film from becoming a flop. The one-of-a-kind dance genre is unlike anything else. Early inspiration came from Indian folk and classical styles, then it picked up bits and pieces from contemporary and western dances, and the result is an amazing, energetic fusion that is distinctly Bollywood.
TOP TRACKS The Bollywood playlist is endless and can include raga-inspired songs like “Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya” from the 1960 classic Mughal-e-Azam to electronic DJ favourites like “Kar Gayi Chull” from Kapoor & Sons (2016).
MOVIE MAGIC There’s a lot to choose from: Navrang (1959) celebrated Indian folk dance; cult Mithun starrer Disco Dancer (1982) came up with an all-new Bollywood disco; Dil to Pagal Hai (1997) showcased fusion dance; star choreographer Remo D’Souza’s ABCD: Anybody Can Dance (2013) and ABCD 2 (2015) are all about modern street dance.
GO DANCE Mumbai breathes and lives Bollywood and is the best place to learn the dance form. Join one of the many studios in the city for a beginner’s course. Shiamak Davar’s dance academy has numerous studios across the city (www.shiamak.com; 10-15 sessions for Rs 5,100; held round the year) while the Saroj Khan Dance Academy offers one-hour tasters (classes held in Oshiwara and Bhayandar; 022-65166616; Rs 500).
FIRST STEPS Tango was born in the slums and brothels of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and slowly grew in popularity and respectability. So much so that “tango” even became part of the phonetic spelling alphabet representing the letter T. Originally a dance expressing loneliness and unrequited desire, modern tango continues to be defined by its pathos and sensuality. It is performed in a close embrace and its fluid sexy moves make the two dancers seem like a single organism.
MOVIE MAGIC Tango is indelibly linked to Hollywood. Al Pacino’s memorable tango in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman melted many female hearts. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s passionate tango sequences in Dirty Dancing garnered a cult following in the 1980s and Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez’s sexy tango in Shall We Dance (2004) set the dance floor aflame.
GO DANCE Argentina Tango in Buenos Aires offers five-day packages (www.argentinatango.com; daily 1.5-hr lessons; from $1,659/Rs 1,11,228 per person including accommodation, breakfast, and one dinner show). Popular Buenos Aires dance club La Viruta offers daily classes (www.lavirutatango.com; 1.5-hr lessons from $80/Rs 5,364 Mon-Tue, $100/Rs 6,705 Wed-Sun).
FIRST STEPS The idea of a romantic dance usually brings to mind a slow, close two-step ballroom dance that emerged from the stately European court dances of the 17th century. The moves got more exciting as people began to emulate the elaborate routines of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the famous dancing couple of Hollywood movies from the 1930s-40s. The popularity of reality TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing (2004 onward) has propelled competitive ballroom dancing into the public imagination, recasting it as a skilful style suited to all ages.
TOP TRACKS “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II and “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) are favourites.
MOVIE MAGIC Strictly Ballroom (1992), directed by Baz Luhrmann, is a memorable film. It tells the story of a talented ballroom dancer trying to win a big championship with his rule-breaking style.
DRESS TO KILL Female dancers opt for elegant gowns in satin or other light fabrics, while the men sport tuxedos or tailcoats.
GO DANCE Holiday & Dance offers ballroom dancing holidays for beginners and skilled dancers (www.holidayanddance.co.uk; from £200/Rs 17,645 per person on twin-sharing basis for a 2-night stay with meals). Dance Breaks also conducts ballroom dance holidays around the U.K. (www.dancebreaks.com; from £149/Rs 13,145 per person for a 2-night stay with meals).
Appeared in the September 2016 issue as “Happy Feet”.
Kareena Gianani is the former Commissioning Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.
Diya Kohli is the former Senior Associate Editor at National Geograpic Traveller India. She loves the many stories of big old cities. For her, the best kind of travel experience involves long rambling walks through labyrinthine lanes with plenty of food stops along the way.
Rumela Basu is former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.