In the field of performing arts, dance has earned a strong position in Newfoundland and Labrador. In this province, as throughout the world, dance is used as a means of self-expression, social interaction, and entertainment. The variety of dance forms available is both extensive and noteworthy: performance dance (i.e., ballet, jazz, tap), folk dance, and aboriginal dance. All of these forms have their distinctive styles and techniques. Moreover, they provide very different ways for exploring the culture of the province and its people.
Social dance classes first appeared in the province in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Taught in the capital city of St. John's, popular dance forms of the day spread quickly throughout the province. From these early days, the variety of dance classes offered has grown dramatically. It is now possible to study such disciplines as ballet, jazz, tap, mime, modern dance, Latin dance, and country line dancing. While dance schools have appeared throughout the province, St. John's remains the hub of activity, boasting its own teacher training school and a performing dance theatre. With the many opportunities provided by the growth of performance dance, it is hardly surprising that the province has produced a significant number of talented dancers. Some have gone on to study and dance with recognized schools and companies throughout the world, while others have chosen to stay and foster the dance community within the province.
Performance and Folk Dance
While performance dance is the usual form of dance that comes to mind when one is considering the performing arts, folk dance also has a prominent position. Settlers from Britain and Ireland brought to the province the folk dances of their homelands. While in many ways they still bear a striking resemblance to the dances found in Britain and Ireland, over the centuries these dances have come to assume characteristics which are unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. Today there are concerns that these dances, if not actively preserved, may in time be lost. With the arrival of popular forms of social dance in the province, and with a wealth of information available through the media, many of the province's young people have turned away from the traditional dance forms and embraced instead the popular dance culture. For this reason, individuals and folk dance groups have undertaken the study and preservation of the folk dances of the province.
While the folk dances brought to the island by settlers have a long and fascinating history, the dances of the aboriginal people of the province are rooted in even longer traditions. The Micmac, Innu, and Inuit each have their own distinctive styles and forms of dance. Whether used for ceremonial or social activities, these dance forms are an integral part of the culture of the province. Unfortunately, with the extinction of the Beothuk, Newfoundland and Labrador lost a portion of its cultural history that can never be replaced or preserved.
Throughout the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, dance has remained an important cultural expression in the life of the people of the province. It serves as a means of carrying on traditions, while still allowing room for growth.