dance

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

dance

dance [Old High Ger. danson=to drag, stretch], the art of precise, expressive, and graceful human movement, traditionally, but not necessarily, performed in accord with musical accompaniment. Dancing developed as a natural expression of united feeling and action.

The Origins of Dance

The earliest history of human dance is a continuing mystery. From the evidence of illustrated ceramic fragments, some archaeologists have speculated that dance originated some 5,000 to 9,000 years ago in early agricultural cultures located in a swath running from modern Pakistan to the Danube basin. Others, however, have expressed caution regarding the reconstruction of social behavior from such sources. Speculation aside, specific knowledge of prehistoric dances is lacking, and thus many experts have extrapolated dance history from the preserved ritual dances of various preliterate societies.

Ritualistic and Ceremonial Dance

Native American dances illustrate most of the purposes of dance that is of a ritualistic or ceremonial nature: the war dance, expressing prayer for success and thanksgiving for victory; the dance of exorcism or healing, performed by shamans to drive out evil spirits; the dance of invocation, calling on the gods for help in farming, hunting, the fertility of human beings and animals, and other tribal concerns; initiation dances for secret societies; mimetic dances, illustrating events in tribal history, legend, or mythology; dances representing cosmic processes; and, more rarely, the dance of courtship, an invocation for success in love. The dance of religious ecstasy, in which hypnotic or trancelike states are induced (a characteristic phenomenon of Southeast Asia and Africa), was represented in America by the remarkable Ghost Dance.

Native American dancing is always performed on the feet, but in many islands of the Pacific and in Asia some of the dances are performed in a sitting posture, with only the hands, arms, and upper parts of the body used. Ancient Egyptian dances, often of a religious character, were derived from earlier African forms. In Greece the choral dance in honor of Dionysus played a part in the development of the drama and in religious worship. Many early religious or celebratory dances have survived in the folk dance of modern times.

In India dance and drama have usually been related, both generally having religious significance. An elaborate code of movements of the arms and hands (mudras), expressive use of the face and especially of the eyes, and a sinuous posturing of the body are important features of Indian classical dancing, among the best-known examples being Kathakali and the Bharata Natyam, both of S India. The early dances of Japan, probably influenced by ancient Chinese forms, became institutionalized with the establishment of a national school of dancing in the 14th cent. Soon the dance became associated with the famous No drama (see Asian drama). Secular dances are performed by the geisha.

The Development of Dance in Europe

In medieval Europe the repeated outbreaks of dance mania, a form of mass hysteria sometimes caused by religious frenzy and usually associated with epidemics of bubonic plague, are reflected in the allegory of the dance of death (see Death, Dance of). Dancing as a social activity and a form of entertainment is of relatively recent origin. During the Middle Ages, especially in France, dancing was a feature of the more enlightened and convivial courts. Some medieval dances, such as the volta, precursor of the waltz, became the sources of modern dance steps. In the 16th cent. two types of dance were popular, the solemn and stately dances performed at the court of Charles IX and the lively peasant dances.

The ballet first appeared in Italian courts in the 16th cent., and it became popular in France, especially during the reign of Louis XIV. Among the formal dances of the 17th cent. were the courante, saraband, pavan, minuet, gavotte, quadrille (or contredanse), and cotillion. Music, which had developed to accompany dancing, had, by this time, evolved many forms and rhythms no longer associated with the dance. French dances made their way to England in the 17th cent. where variations of the morris dance were frequently performed in villages and small towns.

Popular national dances include the mazurka and polonaise from Poland; the czardas from Hungary; the fandango, bolero, seguidilla, and flamenco from Spain; the tarantella and saltarello from Italy; the waltz and galop from Germany; the polka and schottische from Bohemia; the strathspey and Highland fling from Scotland; the hornpipe from England; and the jig from Ireland.

Dance in the Americas

The United States initiated the barn dance, Virginia reel, clog dance, cakewalk, and Paul Jones in the 19th cent., the two-step c.1890, the turkey trot (one-step) c.1900, and the fox-trot c.1912. The popularity of jazz in the early 1920s produced a number of new social dances, of which the most popular was the charleston. From South America came the Argentine tango and the Brazilian maxixe and samba; from Cuba, the rumba, conga, and mambo.

Since the 1920s the United States has seen a wave of dance crazes, among them the Lindy Hop of the 1930s, the boogie woogie and jitterbug of the 1940s, the cha cha and rock 'n' roll of the 1950s, the twist, frug, and various frenzied discothèque and go-go dances of the 1960s, the disco dances of the 1970s, and in the 1980s hip-hop, which was tied to rap music and evolved into an energetic style of street dancing, called break dancing. Tap dancing and ballroom and adagio dancing have won wide popularity as entertainment and have been featured frequently in musical stage shows and movies.

See also modern dance.

Bibliography

See L. Kirstein, Book of the Dance (rev. ed. 1942); C. Sachs, World History of the Dance (tr. 1937, repr. 1963); W. Sorell, The Dance through the Ages (1967); A. Chujoy and P. W. Manchester, ed., The Dance Encyclopedia (rev. ed. 1967); W. Terry, The Dance in America (rev. ed. 1971); G. Vuillier, A History of Dancing from the Earliest Ages to Our Own Time (1898, repr. 1973); P. Magriel, Chronicles of the American Dance (1978); J. H. Mazo, Prime Movers (1977, repr. 1983); F. Bijester, Dancing Is Pleasure for Two: The Story of Ballroom and Social Dance (1985); S. Barnes, Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance (1987); S. J. Cohen, ed., International Encyclopedia of Dance (6 vol., 1998); D. Craine and J Mackrell, Oxford Dictionary of Dance (2000); N. Reynolds and M. McCormick, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (2003).

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