History of Norwegian Folk Dance

Since the beginning of time dance was part of man’s spiritualistic rituals.  The types of dances that were done were: the war dance, the sun dance and the rain dance, etc., all to entice the gods to bring favor down to them, in order to overcome adversities.  These dances, whether done by individuals or in groups, never included contact between the dancers. Singularly, the person could go into an altered state, in order to have direct contact with the gods.

Dance later evolved into a means for social interaction. One such dance is the song dance, which is performed in a circle and includes holding hands. (In more traditional cultures these are performed by those of the same gender). The participants would sing while they danced around the room or field.  It is believed that these song dances came from England and France during medieval days.  However, local artistic individuals would elaborate or embellish or create their own dances. These dances could be done as circles/songs, (a Song Dance is a Circle Dance), lines or couples.  The song dances were accompanied by ballads depicting some historic deeds or even fantasy stories of trolls or spirits.

It is only in Europe that social dance evolved into couple dancing.  Norway, like many other countries of Europe, was influenced by England and France.  Dance in Norway was used to celebrate weddings, births, harvests and other events. I have come to the conclusion that the Norwegian seamen, as well as the traveling actors, troubadours and vagabonds brought news, fads, and new dances to Norway from England and France. 






During the 18th Century, song dancing was on the decline with the introduction of musical instruments.  Violins, flutes, lutes and zithers were the type of instruments used to accompany the dancers.  Later, the accordion was the instrument of choice.  Also, couple dancing was introduced which included the Waltz and later on the Polka.  Couple dancing was introduced to Norway in much the same way that the song dance was, via the seamen and other travelers.  So with the advent of instruments, the song dances quickly became the "passe fad" and were no longer done.
In the late 19th Century, during the Industrial Revolution the Norwegian dances were slowly being discarded. It was "in with new and out with the old." In the early 1880's Hulda Garborg attended a recital of Norwegian Folk songs, after which she said, “After hearing the folk songs she could never forget them, they sang their way into her for all time.” Ms. Garborg saw that folk songs, which had been intended to be done with dance, had lost their dance component. She decided to bring back these dances and once again integrate them with their songs. In the Faroe Islands, they still did the song dances and there were a few books published about this subject. There were only limited instructions on the dances themselves, so Ms. Garborg improvised and made up new dance routines. 

She established a dance ensemble and taught them the dances she created.  In 1902 Ms. Garborg held a recital of these folk dances and performed them to a packed audience, who received them with great enthusiasm. A few months later she had a chance to visit the Faroe Islands and to authenticate the basic steps to the song dance, but left in her additions, thus creating the Norwegian Folkdance Culture.  She held workshops throughout Norway, which were received most enthusiastically.  Even though she was using modern songs and new dance choreography, the Norwegian Song Folk Dance has survived to this day. Around 1915 Ms. Garborg lost interest in the song dance and pursued folk dress, bringing the bunad into mainstream culture. 

In her dance group was Klara Semb who continued as leader of the song dance ensemble.  As the group progressed, Ms. Semb became interested in including the music dances that were being performed throughout Norway.  She traveled around Norway collecting and recording the music, noting down the dance steps and footwork, and gave the dances titles.  Ms. Semb still led the dance group but also held workshops and taught the folk dances in Oslo, Norway until the mid-20th Century.  Today there are many Folk Dance Groups in Norway, performing the many dances that these women have ingrained into the culture of Norway.

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