Dancing is something everyone likes to do – whether it’s on stage in front of thousands of people or secretly, at home. We dance to celebrate, to show our happiness and to boost our energy. Techniques can range from extremely complicated ones performed by professionals to those that we make up as we listen to the music.
We use moves that date back hundreds of years, yet the history of dance is something that we rarely discuss.
This often happens because dancing rarely leaves any material evidence behind for us to look at and determine what it was like before. Recent history of dance has been filmed and it’s easily recorded in history but the further back we go, it’s harder to trace.
Here is how dancing evolved through history based on the information we have:
As you can probably guess, dancing was mostly used as a ritual in ancient civilizations. The rituals and dancing techniques varied based on what the purpose of them was.
- Dancing for gods.
This happened in most ancient civilization – it was a way to show gratitude, love and fear to the God. Since those civilizations had many Gods, each one had special dance techniques designed specifically for them.
“In ancient Egypt, for example, priests and priestesses danced to the music of harps and pipes. Their dance moves were created to show certain aspects of the story and life of that God or imitate patterns that suit the God’s purpose and personality”, – explains Angie Garcia, a History writer at Academ AdvisorandCV Service.
In India, there were specific hand movements designed to have a subtle significance to the ritual and the God they were dancing for. This dance was performed by priestesses in temples and it’s still performed by highly skilled professionals to this day.
- Dancing on sacred occasions
These were most often the times when special dance routines were performed.
In Ancient Greece, at the beginning of each Olympic games, virgins from the temple danced as a way to start the competition. This happened on ancient Greek shrines, it’s called choros and it later became the main entertainment in theatres.
There were also sacred dance rituals performed as a way to reach ecstasy at Dionysiac Dances which were conducted after a grape harvest. Dancing was accompanied by wine and orgies to show love and respect for the Greek God of wine, Dionysus.
- Dancing for entertainment.
As it’s the case in modern society as well, people often danced simply for entertainment. Men and women danced together as a way to have fun or women danced for men.
“Early Egyptian paintings present us with the image of young, beautiful women dancing on walls of pyramids for the occupant or for men that were alive – they dressed scantily and seated musicians accompanied them”, – says James Mosteller, a History Lecturer at State of Writing.
16thto 17thcentury: origins of ballet
One of the favorite means of entertainment in Renaissance – both France and Italy – was dancing. Ladies and gentlemen of the court loved to dance, especially after entering the hall in ornate floats. It was even further encouraged by Catherine de Medici.
The first dramatic ballet was performed for a wedding celebration – it combined dancing with narrative of a comedy story to tell an interesting story. The love of ballet continued later when amateur ballet performances were held at specific occasions.
Dancers also loved to watch their friends in wonderful costumes – it was even recorded by John Evelyn that he enjoys dancing but more so the attires of dancers and especially aristocrats at these occasions. This shows that some elements of the dancing that we know today, originated from the love of dance that Renaissance dancers had.
What was until then just a court entertainment, moved to become an art all of its own in the 18thcentury.
18thcentury: dancing as an art
Ballet performances developed around a narrative and painted a story more vivid and entertaining than ever before. “These ballet performances were not just plain entertainment, but they showed emotions and thoughts of characters by movement, without a word. More complex techniques were created and there were some rules to be followed.”, – says Virginia Burchfield, a Scientific writer at Essay Rooand Big Assignments.
Masks that were used before were now eliminated and replaced by original, authentic emotion.
Costumes evolved as well – from restrictive costumes that were used in early Romanticism period to the more comfortable ones, made of lighter fabric that were used later.
The ballets in this era were developed based on various stories. They were inspired by drama, fantasy, mystique and exotic places but their main goal was still to show emotion through movement and facial expression.
From ballet to contemporary dance: early 20thcentury
Russian ballet school started revolutionizing ballet in 20thcentury and similar attempts continued later. But what was even more important is that during this time period, many different dancing techniques were developed. People started seeing ballet in a negative light – as restrictive and too traditional.
Artists learned to appreciate other forms of expression – there was a more individual, expressive and emotional approach.
Many choreographers abandoned restraints of ballet and took a more creative path. There was a dance revolution.
Late 20thand early 21stcentury
After the revolution that happened in the early 20thcentury, explosion of new approaches to dancing reached its peak in 1960 when postmodernism developed. People steered more towards simplicity and beauty of unrestrained body. They rejected all costumes and narratives, enjoying dance as a dance and not as a way to tell a story.
George Collin, a Content writer at Academizedand Pay for essaycomments: “Later, in 1980, ballet as a more traditional dance form and modern dance forms existed simultaneously – people learned to appreciate them both for what they were. Dancing continues to evolve and develop before our eyes today”.
It’s not always easy to track the history of dancing but it’s certainly fascinating. We have evolved from simple forms of ritual dancing to more complex and restricted forms of dancing like ballet to street dancing and all of the other forms that we have today. One thing we are sure of is that dancing is one of the most expressive and relatable art forms and people love both dancing and watching other people dance.