The classic dances, which originated in the ancient kingdom of Siam, and were performed in the royal courts, are characterized by their elegance, precision and beauty. The hand movements that are an essential feature of Thai dance are emphasized in a variety of ways. Dancers wear elongated fingernails for the Fingernail Dance, which is influenced by Burmese music and costume. In the Candle Dance, which is always held at night, the dancers, through their slow and graceful movements, praise the divinities that protect the eight cardinal points of the Earth. Holding lighted candles, they ask these divinities to pass through the candlelight in homage to the Buddha. It is an enchanting spectacle.
The accompanying musicians for both dances sit in the lotus position to play the traditional Siamese instruments, with the player of a xylophone-type of instrument in the centre. Both these dances were originally sacred dances that were performed during religious festivals. In the three other classic dances, the performers make use of various lengths of scarves.
Some of the folk dances from around the different regions of Thailand celebrate activities that include hunting, rice-growing, silk-weaving, and courtship, often relating a narrative of these or of legends. In the rice-growing dance, the dancers wear the traditional farmers costume to enact each stage of the work, from the ploughing and sowing; then the communal prayers to the goddess who protects this crop; to the harvest and the festivities that accompany it. Another dance, from the northern region is based on the calligraphy of the ancient alphabets and uses movements from the martial arts. It is performed in honour of the Buddha.
The Sword Dance is inspired by the ancient Thai martial art of sword fighting, which demands great courage and strength as well as excellent reflexes. Tradition dictates that this ceremonial dance be performed before combat. The sword dance involves dancers balancing several swords on different parts of their bodies, fighting off the rival with a sword sheath at the same time.