Swedish Cultural Dancing

by Petra Turnbull
Benny Andersson of ABBA has roots in cultural Swedish folk music and dance.

Benny Andersson of ABBA has roots in cultural Swedish folk music and dance.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Cultural dancing in Sweden derives from the folk dance traditions of the 19th century. The dances were usually performed on special occasions and celebrations in the small towns in the countryside. The steps and moves were passed on in Swedish families through generations and vary from region to region. There are several dances that are performed not only in Sweden, but also in the U.S. in regions that have communities with Swedish origins.


"Polska" means Polish in Swedish and it is assumed that this folk dance had its origin in Poland in the 16th century. Traditional Polskas are danced on one spot, but there are several types of Polskas now, including the Hambo and the Slangpolska, where the dance is executed around the room. In a Polska, the dance steps of the man and the woman usually do not mirror each other, as they perform different footwork and the partners perform several turns during the course of the dance. The accompanying music for a Polska traditionally is performed by a violin, but pipes, clarinets and accordions may also be used.


This dance derives from Northern Sweden and is also called a walking tune. In Swedish culture, the Snoa is performed by couples and includes turns and spins interrupted by walking steps. Unlike the Polska, performing the Snoa requires the partners to dance the same steps, which are led by the man. Unlike other Swedish dances, the Snoa does not have specific music intended for the dance. Orchestras often use a polka to accompany dancers, but fox trots and even tangos are also suitable.


The Schottis is a European dance with origins in France and Germany, but it has been adapted by the Swedish and included in their cultural dancing since the 19th century. The dance is even mentioned in August Strindberg's classic play "Miss Julie" of 1888, in which the title character asks to dance a Schottis. In the Swedish version of the dance, several couples form a ring and the dancers move anticlockwise with dance steps that are a combination of walking and jumping, interspersed with turnings. The Schottis is one of the most versatile dances in Swedish cultural dancing, as any music can be used, including modern, 21st-century songs.


In a Langdans, dancers form a long row, with partners holding each other's hand. The leader then starts with dance moves and steps that have to be copied by the group, who will follow him through the room. The steps are free and include turns, jumps and traditional Polska moves. The dance has the same rhythm as a slow Polska. Langdans are also performed outside the Swedish folk dance community. School children often perform the dance just before Christmas, walking and dancing around the school before it closes for the holidays.

About the Author

Based in the U.K., Petra Turnbull has been working as a journalist since 1989. Her articles on the film and book trades have been published in "Screen International," "Dagens Naringsliv," "Film Magasinet" and other Scandinavian newspapers and magazines. She now manages her own book shop. Turnbull holds degrees in law and economics from Goethe University, Germany and Oslo Business School in Norway.

Photo Credits

  • Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images