Dancing to the Beat of Thailand: History and Basics of Thai Dance

An elaborate Thai dance watched by local and foreign spectators
Thai dance was traditionally exclusive royal entertainment but is now performed all over Thailand.

No other art form displays more gracefully the magnificence of Thai culture than its rich array of traditional dance.

Thai dance is a primary and sophisticated element of Thai culture and history, developed through the years and carefully passed down from one generation to the next.

Historically, it mostly consists of dramatic art, distinguished into two particular types, which are high art (classical dance) and low art (folk dance).

Classical dances are ancient forms of dance traditionally performed for royal entertainment and not seen elsewhere. On the other hand, folk dances originated in different regions of the country and integrate local popular elements in their music and choreography.

The Khmer words used in Thai dances reveal the extensive influence of Khmer culture on the inception and development of traditional Thai dance. This art form was thought to have begun during the Ayutthaya period and has since evolved throughout time resulting in different versions.

Here are some of the most popular classical and folk dances in Thailand, which you will most probably see when you come to visit the Land of Smiles.

Classical Thai Dance

Khon Thai Dance

Considered one of the highest art forms, Khon was once exclusively performed in royal courts. It is an elaborate performance comprising battle scenes, a great number of dancers, and colorful intricate costumes.

The Khon Thai dance is an enactment mostly derived from Ramakien, the Thai version of Hindu Ramayana. Masked performers interpret the scenes through silent gestures and expressions.

This highly renowned Thai dance includes a variety of characters such as demons, singers, and monkeys, with most dancers being male. The performance is accompanied by an orchestra while a chorus at the side narrates the events.

Lakhon Thai Dance

Unlike Khon Thai Masked Dance, Lakhon is mostly performed by female dancers whose faces are uncovered. They execute the dance as a group rather than having specific roles. The dance highlights graceful upper body movements and hand gestures while the lower half of the body remains motionless.

Lakhon Thai Dance is another depiction of the Ramakhien, one of the major influences of the Indian culture in Thailand. However, it also includes folk and Jataka tales.

Some of the types of Lakhon dances are Lakhon Nok, Lakhon Nai, and Lakhon Phatang. The latter portrays the 15th-century Chinese-Burmese conflict, incorporating Chinese martial arts and costumes in the performance.

A woman performing a traditional Thai dance
Traditional Thai dance is characterized by elaborate costumes such as long brass fingernails that accentuate the movements of the fingers.

Lakhon Lek

Quite famous during ancient times, Lakhon Lek is now rarely seen in Thailand. This Thai cultural dance features puppets instead of humans and combines puppetry, dance, and drama for a unique lively performance. Puppets two feet tall sing and dance accompanied by human performers, who bring them to life.

It is believed to have originated in central Thailand and was first performed in the royal courts during the Ayutthaya period. Efforts to preserve this ancient dance are ongoing as schools and cultural centers are teaching them to new generations.


One of the most popular Thai dances, Li-khe is a crowd-favorite for its humor and vibrance. It is a combination of theater, comedy, and dance accentuated by extravagant Thai dancing costumes and energetic music.

The dance is often based on a tale from Thai mythology, which the dancers convey through exaggerated facial expressions and gestures, punctuated by racy and slapstick humor. It is performed all over Thailand, especially in rural regions, at festivals, weddings, and other celebrations.

Folk Thai Dance


Fon is a folk dance commonly performed and well-loved in festivals. It is often accompanied by folk music according to its region of origin. This traditional Thai dance was pioneered by Chao Dararasami in northern Thailand from which a variety of fon versions spawned.

Fon lep, a fingernail dance, is characterized by the lavish six-inch-long brass fingernails its dancers wear to highlight their finger motions. Fon tian is a version featuring candles held by dancers who pair up wearing sarongs and jackets. Meanwhile, Fon ngiew is a dance with a livelier beat, usually performed at festive events, with its dancers wearing a tiara adorned with a bright yellow flower.

A child wearing a costume for a Thai cultural dance
Thai cultural dance is taught in schools and dance troupes to children and adults alike.

Ram Wong

A famous social dance, Raw Wong is done by pairs dancing in a circle. Each pair maintains the circular formation while swaying through different sets of movements. Their soft gestures and slight motions give the dance an air of elegance, gracefully performed to the sound of traditional Thai instruments such as the pi-nai or the ranad-ek.

This Ram Thai Dance started in the central region of the country and is a fun way to gather people together for family and social events.

Ram Muay

The Ram Muay is a ritual dance performed before Muay Thai matches in the country. It has a significant role in the sport as a form of showing gratitude and respect for certain important figures. It also gives a glimpse into a fighter’s abilities, style, and background.

This Muay Thai dance is assumed to trace its roots back to Pahuyuth weapon fighters, who called upon ancestors and past warriors for help in their battles.

Listen to some of our stories...

Thailand Women Featured Videos
Thailand Women Featured Videos
Thailand Women Featured Videos
View More Videos

Wai Khru

Another dance performed prior to the start of a Muay Thai fight is the Wai Khru. Wai is the customary Thai greeting of putting the hands together, while khru means teacher. This ritual dance pays homage to an athlete’s coach, trainers, and family.

The choreography of this Muay Thai dance can range from simple to complex with signature moves according to the particular gym where the fighter trains. The fighters usually wear headbands and armbands, which carry a certain meaning and history.

It is also performed outside matches by Thai classical dance troupes to pay respects to artistic ancestors.

Dance is an ancient art that speaks volumes of a country’s history and culture. The marvelous way of depicting stories and emotions through body movements and expressions is truly awe-inspiring no matter what generation you come from.

Thai dance indeed showcases the beauty and splendor of its people and history, capturing the hearts of locals and tourists alike. If you’re planning to travel to Thailand, don’t miss watching these amazing performances and you’ll surely be charmed by the Land of Smiles.

Thailand Women Blog Banner Image Thailand Women Blog Banner Mobile Image