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Is dance really a universal language?

A group of African women dressed in colorful dresses dancing in a room.

Dance is often said to be a universal language. But in many ways – it isn’t. Take Irish dancing. From the first recorded evidence of jiggers ‘taking to the floor’ in County Cork on Christmas Eve 1413, it has evolved into an integral and iconic part of Irish culture. Or as Richard Head wrote in 1674 “In every field a fiddle, and the lasses footing till they all of a foam.” (Ok, so…I don’t know exactly what that means, but didn’t you read it in an Irish accent? And didn’t it sound fantastic? I’m going to be saying that sentence in my head for the rest of the day).

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The point is, Irish dancing is a unique, powerful reflection of Irish storytelling, music and culture, just as belly dancing (which is said to be 6000 years old!) is a reflection of Egypt’s. Belly dancing possibly owes some of its vocabulary to certain African dances, and its head-slides recall dances originating in India, so within the artform we admire today is a compelling story about the movements of peoples and the intersections of cultures thousands of years ago. Clearly to categorically say dance is a universal language is to slightly undersell its special relationship with cultural and national identities. The diversity of dance across the world is as beautiful as the mosaic of cultures we’re lucky enough to explore.

And yet…when the world went into lockdown in 2020, and we could no longer travel…what did we do? Aside from doomscroll on Twitter and make banana bread, we danced on TikTok. The platform exploded in popularity as we connected to each other – not through language – but through movement.

@_cairde Answer @im_siowei Thanks for watching this over 20 MILLION times ? #cairde #2021 ♬ The Magic Bomb (Questions I Get Asked) [Extended Mix] – Hoàng Read

So no, in many ways dance is not a universal language. It’s far more interwoven into the rich tapestry of cultural identity for that. But it does have this unique power to break barriers, and open doors of communication across cultures. The human desire to connect sensually and soulfully with one another through movement is something as innate as breathing. And that’s before we get to dance’s love affair with travel. After all, what road trips would be the same without the playlists? And what evenings abroad would be the same without the dancefloor?

Well, we think it’s time for travel and dance to get cosy again. So we’re building something. A call to co-ordinated arms, if you will. A movement. No matter where you are in the world, get moving, share your skills and you’ll be a Contiki star for a day. And you won’t just get applause, you’ll get some pretty sweet prizes, too. Dance may not be a universal language, but it is something that makes us feel a lil’ more connected with the universe. Ready to join the movement?

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