Dance 101: Understanding the Different Types of Theatrical Dance

Throughout human history, dance has been used to convey emotion, express oneself, entertain a crowd and keep the body physically well. Over this time, different forms of theatrical dance have emerged into the foreground – and they haven’t gone anywhere since. Even before humanity gave a name to a new genre of dance, it was already established in culture and given the permanent place it has today.

There are many genres of dance that thrill and delight audiences, but in this article, we will break the subject down into four broad theatrical dance categories that you are more likely to recognize.


You know ballet when you see it. The fluid movements, the delicate orchestral melodies, the physics-defying jumps and the contortion of the dancer’s feet all characterize this popular form of dance. Popularized in France by choreographer Pierre Beauchamp, ballet has spread to every corner of the world. It combines beautiful music and dance with an elegant aesthetic for a complete and breathtaking experience.

Folk Dance

Have you ever heard of “Riverdance?” This is an example of folk dance, a genre of dance that relates to culturally or nationally significant music and dance. No folk dance is the same from country to country, or even region to region, which makes this type of dance perhaps the most varied in the world. Folk dances can be solo, group or coupled-up dances.

Modern Dance

Accurately described as a combination of different dance genres, modern dance emerged onto the scene in the 1920s. The uninhibited freedom of modern dance created the perfect outlet for creative dancers to express themselves in ways that simply weren’t showcased before. Oftentimes, modern dance styles are a combination of two or more other types of dance, including folk dance styles.

Interpretive Dance

Through the use of movement to convey human expression and emotion, interpretive dance is a storytelling dance. It can be used to convey anything, from worries about global pollution to a personal story of love or despair. Because interpretive dance is only restrained by its ability to showcase emotion and tell a story, it is another widely varied form of dance. Most interpretive dance performances you’ll see have their roots in other genres of dance.

Truly, there are too many different styles of dance to recount here in any reasonable length of time. Dance is whatever you want it to be. But if you intend to study dance, it helps to know what some of the more commonly-referred to genres of dance are.