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Defregger Vor dem Tanz.jpg
Vor dem Tanz, Franz Defregger (1835–1921)
Genre Social dance, folk dance
Time signature 3/4
Origin Bavaria and Tyrol

The Schuhplattler is a traditional style of folk dance popular in the Alpine regions of Bavaria and Tyrol (southern Germany, Austria and the German speaking regions of northern Italy). In this dance, the performers stomp, clap and strike the soles of their shoes (Schuhe), thighs and knees with their hands held flat (platt). There are more than 150 basic Schuhplattlers, as well as marches and acrobatic feats that are often interspersed with the basic dance in performance. They may be seen today in Europe and in German immigrant communities around the world. While the Schuhplattler is still largely performed by adults, it has become increasingly popular with youngsters, who love its colorful costumes and its bouncing, leaping, kicking and choreographed horseplay.


Schuhplattler group in Munich

The Schuhplattler is thought to date from Neolithic times, about 3000 BC (Trevor Homer, Book of Origins, New York, 2007), but it was first mentioned in 1050 AD, when a monk in the Tegernsee Abbey, Bavaria, described a village dance containing leaps and hand gestures. It was performed almost exclusively in peasant villages until 1838, when the Empress of Russia was honored by the locals of Wildbad Kreuth with a Schuhplattler, and the aristocracy, fascinated by the strange costumes and quaint pursuits of the common folk, began taking an interest in the dance. Some consider the birth of the modern Schuhplattler to have occurred in 1858, when it was performed for King Maximilian II of Bavaria on his excursion through the Alps.

By the late 19th century, traditional costume clubs (Trachtenvereine) were being established all across Bavaria and Tyrol, and soon these groups spread to the German emigrant communities in America and elsewhere. Since their mission of these clubs was to preserve the age-old customs, lore and dress of the German and Austrian Alps, the Schuhplattler became a central part of their programs.

River Valley Schuhplattler, Bucks County, Pennsylvania


By the beginning of the 19th century the Schuhplattler had become a kind of courtship dance, with young men trying to impress the ladies by displaying their strength and agility in time to the music. The dances often highlighted the towns where they were invented or imitated the various professions of the performers, such as the Mühlradl (Miller’s Dance), the Holzhacker (wood cutter), and the Glockenplattler (Bell Dance). Girls participated by twirling in their colorful dirndls as the boys leaped, stomped, slapped and performed acrobatic figures. Acrobatics were an important part of the dance at least by the 1820s, when boys began sitting on the shoulders of their partners and stamping their feet rhythmically on the ceiling!

Although there are still many groups who perform the Schuhplattler as a partner dance, it is more often performed today by men only, or by boys and girls in lederhosen. When women participate, they usually do little more than twirl around the stage in their dirndls, offering color and graceful movement to counterbalance the leaping and slapping of the plattlerists.

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