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Story: Cultural dance

Pacific dance boomed in New Zealand in the late 20th century, with events drawing many thousands of people. New Zealanders of all ethnicities got together to enjoy dancing in styles as varied as Bollywood, Irish and salsa.

Story by Megan Cook
Main image: Balinese dance, Wellington, 2011

Story Summary

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Most forms of cultural dance were brought to New Zealand by migrants from countries where the dances originated.

Dance in the 2000s

A 2007–8 survey found that dance was the ninth-most popular physical activity for New Zealanders. In the 2000s different types of dance were performed at the same festivals and influenced each other. While ballet and modern dance were most likely to get government funding, more attention began to be paid to cultural dance.

Pacific dance

Pacific Island immigrants after the Second World War brought their dance styles with them to New Zealand. At first these dances were performed at family, community and school events. By the 2000s the Pacific dance community (especially in Auckland) was so large and active that it attracted visitors from around the Pacific. Auckland’s Pasifika Festival and Polyfest drew huge audiences. Pacific Dance New Zealand ran dance classes and the Pacific Dance Fono.

European cultural dance

From colonial times, European migrants also brought their dances to New Zealand. Scottish dancing was performed in homes and at dances and public events. English folk-dance and morris-dance groups were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 20th century children were taught English (and some Scottish) folk dances at school. The range of dances taught at school became wider in the 1980s.

In the late 1990s more people became interested in Irish dance. European dance performed in the 2000s included Polish, Greek, French and Scandinavian styles.

Asian and other dance

From the 1980s Asian festivals such as Chinese New Year and Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, were more widely celebrated. Dance was part of these events.

Legong, a classical Balinese dance style, was brought to New Zealand in 1960 by dancer and choreographer Liong Xi. In the 2000s Indian dance forms including Bollywood dance (as practised in the Mumbai film industry) and bharata natyam were taught and performed. Chinese lion and dragon dances were taught by culture societies.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Cultural dance', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cultural-dance (accessed 19 January 2018)

Story by Megan Cook, published 22 Oct 2014