Recreational Dance

Canadians love to dance. According to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyles Research Institute, dancing is among our 10 favourite recreational activities whether it is children studying ballet, adults whirling around the ballroom, or whole families enjoying old-time sets.

Recreational dance refers to any form of dancing that is done primarily for its social, educational and health benefits. Recreational dancing can be found in dance studios, community halls, nightclubs and as part of various social occasions. Dance trends influence the kind of dancing people do in social settings: salsa, swing dance and the tango have all been in the spotlight during recent decades as popular forms of recreational dancing.

Dance Instruction

Many children in Canada are introduced to dance through enrolment in formal classes. Ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop classes are offered in private dance studios and through community recreation and continuing education programs. Students attend weekly sessions of about an hour, receiving technical training and preparation for performances. Their teachers, who usually represent and are trained in a particular system of dance, provide graded syllabi, examinations and medal testing for their students (see also dance education).

Recreational dancers may also learn to dance informally, through family or community traditions, peer interaction or dedicated self-instruction. Social dances often include simple moves that dancers learn from each other and more complicated patterns that may require formal instruction. Through clubs, classes and performances troupes, members of specific multicultural communities practise folk dances.

Many so-called "street" dances associated with hip-hop culture were developed and initially shared in urban spaces such as schoolyards, sidewalks and nightclubs. Self-instruction, with the increasing availability of instructional videos or performance footage, remains an important parallel to studio-taught classes in these forms. Many individuals will learn through a combination of formal and informal situations.

Highland Dancing

Highland dancing is popular throughout Canada among children of all national backgrounds. Standards for competition and advancement are set by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, while ScotDance Canada coordinates sanctioned competitions in this country leading to the World Championships held each year in Scotland.

Country and Set Dancing

Traditional or old-time set dancing was popular throughout Canada in the early part of the 20th century and remains a feature of community dances in rural areas of the Western provinces and in parts of Atlantic Canada such as Newfoundland and Labrador, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. Square sets have descended from quadrilles and are closely connected to step dancing. Many dancers do shuffling steps as they move through the figures and some sets include breaks for step dancing between figures. It is not unusual, particularly in Cape Breton, for individuals to take the floor and perform a few steps between sets.

As the popularity of old-time dancing waned after the Second World War different communities each adopted and/or adapted a particular set and the role of the prompter diminished. In Cape Breton, for example, the set danced in Inverness is different from the set danced 20 km away in Mabou. When people moved from Cape Breton to points west and south they took their dances with them. Regular dances are held in Cape Breton Clubs in Boston, Detroit, Toronto and Calgary. The best Cape Breton fiddlers and dancers are flown out for special dances, so that even the grandchildren of former Islanders know the music and the dances.

Step Dancing

Step dancing as a solo activity has enjoyed uninterrupted popularity in rural areas across Canada. The 1990s resurgence of Gaelic music and Celtic-rock fusion led to an increase in the numbers of children and adults taking instruction in a dance form that was once passed down from parent to child. The traditional Cape Breton step dance is close to the floor and danced in shoes with hard leather soles. The Ottawa Valley style features high-flying legs and metal taps but uses a relaxed torso rather than the rigid upper body and arms associated with modern Irish hard shoe dancing. This distinctive Ottawa Valley style developed in the logging camps along the Ottawa River and includes French, Scottish, English and First Nations influences.

There is no formal organization for Cape Breton step dance and they are actively working to keep it that way. They have also succeeded in keeping competitions away from their areas as this tends to change the style of dancing. The Ottawa Valley style has evolved to look more like American clogging since competition has made flashy moves more popular. Other centres of activity include Newfoundland and Labrador, Métis populations on the Prairies (Red River jigging), Acadian regions of the Maritimes, and Quebec.

Square and Round Dancing

Square dancing and round dancing are very sociable activities. Dancers visit other clubs and participate in a range of activities from camping to community fundraisers. The dancing quickly incorporates novice dancers, as a main feature of the dances is to break down the steps, with 1 person calling to or cueing the dancers. The dancing couples form a single large circle around the room and dance the figures as they are cued. The activity has been adapted to include participation by those in wheelchairs and with other physical challenges.

The Canadian National Square and Round Dance Convention is a major event that is usually held every second year in a different part of Canada and hosts as many as 5000 dancers including visitors from all parts of the globe. Popular in an aging population, numbers in their clubs and communities are in decline.

Country Western Dancing

Country Western dancing includes the two-step, the waltz, line dancing and many westernized versions of ballroom and Latin dances such as the cha cha and samba. Although many of these dances are borrowed from ballroom and social dance forms, they have been adapted to fit the rhythms of popular country and western music. Many of the steps have been codified for teaching and competition purposes.

Ballroom Dancing

Ballroom Dancing generally refers to a series of stylized partner dances including the waltz, tango, quickstep and foxtrot (International Standard) and the samba, rumba, cha-cha-cha, paso doble and jive (International Latin). At the competition level it is referred to as DanceSport, and is not considered to be a recreational activity. American-style ballroom dance, mainly taught through franchised schools such as Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire, is more prevalent in the Prairie provinces than in the East or in British Columbia. The individual dances in ballroom dancing exist, to varying degrees, in less regimented form in appropriate social contexts relative to their cultural meaning.

Between 1989 and the end of the 1990s Montréal was considered the North American capital of the Argentine tango. Tango is popular in larger cities across Canada among a wide range of demographics, with "milongas" or gatherings for dancing taking place in bars, cafés and tango dance schools.

Salsa is a partner dance that was developed by Cuban and Puerto Rican New Yorkers in the late 1960s. In the late 1990s Canada experienced a salsa boom, marked by the first international Salsa Congress in Toronto. Before this, salsa in Canada was either "street salsa" as danced and sometimes taught by mainly Central American immigrants, or the competitive ballroom variety. Salsa has become increasingly popular, with schools flourishing, a handful of bars in major cities devoted to salsa dancing, and weekly theme nights at other venues including the dance studios.

Samba is dance from Brazil associated with the carnival. Although it appeared in Canada around the same time as salsa, it has a smaller following, in part because it is a solo dance form and less conducive to amorous interaction. Capoeira is another increasingly popular Brazilian form; it is a dance/martial art hybrid danced in twos within a circle of onlookers.

The largest swing dance scene in Canada is in Montréal, with several schools and weekly dance nights at various venues, and a major championship event north of the city where aficionados isolate themselves in the country for a weekend of swing dancing. The lindyhop, as danced in the 1930s in Harlem, is considered the authentic swing dance. Smaller communities exist in Toronto, Ottawa and Waterloo, with pockets of activity in Halifax, Quebec City, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver. In British Columbia a different variation, the west coast swing, with ties to the Los Angeles scene, is more prevalent.

Dances of Hip-hop Culture

Hip-hop emerged out of the South Bronx in the late 1970s to create a global phenomenon. Its core dance, popularly called breakdance but more accurately named breaking or b-boying/b-girling, is a rhythmic and acrobatic solo street dance. Other dances associated with hip-hop culture include locking and popping (2 West Coast funk dances), new school hip-hop such as new Jack swing and the hip-hop dance of music videos, house dance, waacking, and the more recent Los Angeles-originated krumping.

Hip-hop is often associated with inner-city minority youth, but is becoming more generally popular. Street dancers often organize themselves into "crews" to share their skills and compete, either on the nightclub floor or at organized competitions called "battles." Battles can be local and community oriented, or they can involve cash prizes and move crews or individuals on to larger, international battles.

Rave is another dance culture associated with youths. Raves are large-scale parties, sometimes in undisclosed locations, where participants dance all night long to electronic music. Rave scenes were strong in major Canadian cities throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, with Montréal maintaining a major following and Edmonton emerging with a small resurgence. While dancing is clearly the central activity to raves, the music and use of drugs (often ecstasy) have overshadowed most academic treatments of the rave phenomenon.

All dance events involve social interactions, whether a dance performance in a theatre, nightclub dancing or a dance class. Many dances have a strong following in dance classes, particularly among women, including jazz dance, classical ballet, African dancing, bellydancing and flamenco. Both social dance and dance classes taken by amateur dancers are considered recreational dance. Indeed, dance at the recreational level is alive and well in Canada.