The Ins and Outs of Traditional Icelandic Folk Dance

Whether you're a spectator or eager to join in, experiencing traditional Icelandic folk dance is a delightful journey into the heart of the country's traditions. Discover the intricate footwork, colorful costumes, and the joyous sense of community that defines these dances.

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

As in most cultures and societies, dance has played a big role in celebrations, storytelling, etc. In this article, we dive into everything surrounding traditional Icelandic folk dance. From the various traditional dances, and their rich history to when it is performed today.

So, if you find tradition fascinating, or consider yourself a fan of dance as a format (whether you have two left feet yourself or can get “down” with the best of them), this article promises to be an interesting read.

The History of Traditional Icelandic Folk Dance

The dance culture here on the island is very interesting, since it’s essentially a collective of influences by travelers looking for new places to settle down. What once consisted mostly of Scandinavia, turned to travelers from other European countries when those from Denmark started moving in during the late 18th century.

The folk music themes, firmly rooted in the Norse and Viking traditions, rarely had any religious undertones and mostly revolved around the sea, love, and all sorts of mythological creatures. It is therefore also not surprising that the Icelandic folk dances proved to be very popular amongst those who did not have any ties to the church and made the island their home.

Iceland folk dance

But it is also because of this that Icelandic folk dancing was banned as a pagan practice in the 18th century, whilst the country was under Danish rule. As with most things in life, time passed and sort of took care of this problem; the Danish rule ended and the music and dancing slowly started up again, ‘till the early 20th century saw a complete revival with groups dedicated to re-teaching the once-banned traditional folk dances to ensure their survival for future generations.

What is the Traditional Dance in Iceland?

There are a number of traditional Icelandic folk dances that are still performed on the island today. The most popular dances include the following:


Vikivaki is one of the most well-known traditional folk dances here on the island. It is a type of ring dance that requires the dancer’s body to remain quite stiff and has been performed all throughout the Nordic regions since the Middle Ages till today. The dance is performed by both men and women and is relatively easy to do with pretty simple steps.

Vikivaki is used to refer to the dance itself as well as the music that accompanies the dance and is described as the ultimate representation of the Land of Fire and Ice as you dance along to songs of joy and sorrow, fantasy, and Icelandic folklore. Today, the dance is usually performed during celebrations, especially weddings, as well as folk festivals.


This is one of those local folk dances that delves into Icelandic folklore and is a favorite to perform during national festivities. This dance tells the tale of Fjallkonan – the spirit that guards the Icelandic wilderness and mountains. As with most of the traditional Icelandic folk dances, the Fjallkonan is a type of ring dance that is performed by a group on the beat of traditional Icelandic music.


This traditional Icelandic folk dance is also performed in a group and consists of some intricate steps accompanying traditional Icelandic music. The dance is named after one of the 13 Yule Lads, and therefore, it’s no surprise that this dance is mostly performed during the Christmas season here in Iceland.


The Thorrablot is actually a very festival-specific dance. As you might’ve already assumed, the Thorrablot is performed during the festival of the same name. The Porrablot festival is usually held in January or February to celebrate the arrival of winter and is characterized by everything traditionally Icelandic.

From the music and dancing to the food (you can rest assured that boiled sheep’s head and fermented shark will be available for you to try) – Porrablot is the ultimate celebration of Icelandic culture.  


Vallanes is another type of traditional Icelandic ring dance performed by a group, but somehow it’s got a bit of a modern feel to it as one or more dancers take turns dancing in the middle of the circle, whilst the rest of the circle holds hands and busts a series of traditional Icelandic moves. This is quite a lively dance that has an energetic feel to it, so it’s not surprising that this dance is usually performed at big social gatherings such as weddings.


Rimur is considered to be more of an Icelandic folk poetry format than just another traditional folk dance. Imagine a type of Icelandic slam poetry performed in more of a singing style that is accompanied by traditional instruments such as the fiola and the langspil. Rimur can be performed by one person or a group of people. Considered one of the island’s most popular traditional forms of entertainment, Rimur can often be seen performed during large social gatherings or local festivals.

Our Local Folk Dancing Heros

We have our own traditional Icelandic folk dancing group here on the island that is not only performing at our local festivals and national celebrations, but is taking the Icelandic culture abroad – from the US, France, and China to Austria, Romania, and the Czech Republic. The group’s name is Sporid (which basically translates to ‘The Step’), and although the group is officially based in Borgarfjordur, its members come from all over South West Iceland.

These are the go-to guys (and girls) if you want to experience the best of traditional folk dances from the 13th to the 20th century. And for even better news; you can book these internationally renowned traditional Icelandic performers for your own events!

Iceland dance

Traditional Icelandic Folk Dances; Precious History Preserved

The saying goes that “you can’t keep a good thing down”, and that has certainly been the case with traditional Icelandic folk dance.

Despite the ban of this much-loved activity under Danish rule, it has been revived and actively kept alive for the enjoyment of future generations, and, of course, our lovely visitors to the island. So, keep an eye out for local festivities and celebrations or our local folk festivals, rent a car in Reykjavik, and experience traditional Icelandic folk dancing firsthand.

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