The traditional dances of a culture or, "folk" dances, exist wherever cultures exist. Movement, music and dress all feature prominently in folk dance. The costumes vary widely from culture to culture, but they share elements in common. These elements include uniformity of design, handmade construction and festive or otherwise eye-catching design. A brief overview of some well-established folk dance costumes can help you understand the similarities and differences between the different traditions.
One of the first nations to develop a sophisticated and advanced civilisation, Greece has a lively folk dance tradition still very much alive today. While Greek folks dances date back to the very foundations of Western theatre, many of the costumes come from as recently as the middle of the 19th century. As such, they reflect the tastes of Victorian Europe, with strict gender lines and modest dress. Women's costumes generally consist of a long dress and bonnet, both of which have ornate designs embroidered in black, white, beige and gold. Men's costumes feature similar but more conservative colours and designs, with trousers or tights, white shirts, vests, black caps and shoes sometimes decorated with large, festive pom-poms. The costumes vary widely, so that a costume from Crete will only bear a slight resemblance to a costume from Thrace.
One of the more idiosyncratic folk dance traditions, Morris Dancing still has many devotees in contemporary Britain. Largely an invention of Victorian imagination, Morris Dancing seeks to incorporate the legitimate dance traditions of early British cultures into the quaint, codified and regimented style suitable to 19th century mores. The Morris Dancer costume features high-waist breeches with festive closures and sometimes tights, with bells tied around the legs, calves or ankles. An equally bright waistcoat crisscrossed with bright ribbons covers the chest and a shirt with flowing white sleeves held in place with garters. The Victorian top hat features prominently in the costume, with bright ribbons wrapped around its brim and rosettes made of ribbon. The dancer often holds a long, flowing handkerchief and sometimes sticks painted with red, white and blue.
One of the very oldest human civilisations, India has a rich and varied folk dance tradition. Unlike European nations that sought to resurrect or even "invent" folk dance styles, India's folk dances have legitimate roots in ancient cultural traditions. Largely performed by women, Indian folk dances feature bright, gilded costumes featuring a short-sleeved blouse and a pleated skirt. Fabric pieces such as the Pallu and Thavani hang over the front of the blouse and skirt, providing another opportunity for ornate, eye-catching design. Indian folk dancers generally wear their hair pulled tightly against their heads and held in place with jewelled and gilded tiaras, with multiple piercings, bracelets, necklaces and anklets accenting the dancer's body.
The so-called Native American peoples of North America have folk dance traditions that weave together social, religious and festive elements. The costumes used in these dances vary as widely as the cultures that created them, but they generally incorporate a few elements. The skins, feathers and furs of North American animals feature highly in these folk dance costumes, from buckskin jackets and buffalo robes to eagle or porcupine quill headdresses. Design elements incorporated from European colonists also feature in these costumes as well, such as bells and beads. Contemporary Native American folk dance costumes may incorporate imagery from today's world, as folk dances serve just as important a function today as they did in the remote past.
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