History of dance very closely follows the development of human race. Since the start of our existence, far before the creation of first modern civilizations, dance served as an irreplaceable way of expressing human thought and emotion. As our civilization traveled through millennia, dance was modified to the point of being a popular means of expression, health, communication and competition.
From the earliest events of human history, dance accompanied ancient rituals, spiritual gatherings and social events. As a channel of trance, spiritual force, pleasure, expression, performance and interaction, dance became a part of our nature since the primitive days of our existence. Dance has remained an important part of us right from the time when the African tribes covered themselves in war-paint to spread music and dance across all four corners of the world. Even today dancing remains one of the most expressive forms of communications that we know of.
The oldest proof of existence of dance comes from the nine thousand years old cave paintings that is found in India. These paintings depict various scenes of hunting, childbirth, religious rites, burials, and most importantly, communal drinking and dancing.
Dance became widespread when in the third millennia B.C., Egyptians started using dance as integral parts of their religious ceremonies. Judging by the many tomb paintings that survived the tooth of time, Egyptian priests used musical instruments and dancers to mimic important events - stories of gods and cosmic patterns of moving stars and sun.
The history of dance is full of interesting events that shaped its foundations, inventors that created new styles, periods of time when dance and music were put in the forefront of innovations. All this enabled it to become the most popular social pastime of today.
During the period of time in 16th century that is today remembered as an Elizabethan Era, dance and music received unprecedented attention, advancement and refinement that allowed it to become one of the most popular ways for socialization and exercise, and a foundation for the creation of all modern dances.
Connection between dance and religion and myths can be observed from the dawn of our civilization to the modern times. Here you can find out how dance influenced the religion ceremonies, became storytelling device in describing tales of gods and myths, or in some cases become very integral part of some religions.
Asia has a bright collection of distinctive dances particular to its many different cultures. They are, at once, fiercely guarded traditional treasures and proud examples of the artistry and imagination of tribes and nations. These folk dances come from the history and heart of specific people, telling their stories as evocatively as any artifact or legend.
European dances before the start of Renaissance were not widely documented, any only few isolated fragments of their existence remain found today. The most basic “chain shaped” dance practiced by commoners was most widespread across Europe, but the arrival of Renaissance and new forms of music brought many other styles in fashion.
After the end of French Revolution, many new types of dances emerged with focused on less restrictive woman clothing, and tendency for skipping and jumping. These dances soon became even more energetic in 1844 with the beginning of so called “international polka craze” which also brought us the first appearance of famous waltz.
As the arts and sciences flourished in the European Renaissance, dance quickly rose to preeminence. It increased in sophistication and social importance. It is from preserved music tablatures and literature, such as Boccaccio’s Decameron, that we know the names of these lost dances, which include the ball, carola, stampita, salterello, rotta, trotto and farandole. Renaissance dances from Spain, France and Italy were soon surpassed by Baroque dances which became widely popular in French and English courts.
The dance forms of the Middle East have been a type of social dance since unmemorable times. It was and is danced when women gather together to socialize. According to some, the Arabic dance is extremely old and traces of it can be found up to 6,000 years ago, in some pagan societies. A form of Arabic dance, ‘belly dance’ takes its name from the French word danse du ventre, which means “dance of the stomach”. This dance is also often referred to as “oriental dance” and also sometimes raks sharqi.
Around the 1980s, the word contemporary dance referred to the movement of new dancers who did not want to follow strict classical ballet and lyrical dance forms. They wanted to explore the area of revolutionary unconventional movements that had been gathered from all dance styles of the world. Contemporary dances therefore do not use fixed moves. They instead try to develop totally new forms and dynamics.
The origins of this popular dance movement can be pinned back to several influential dance masters such as Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. They all wanted to show to the world that contemporary dancers should embrace freedom. They should not pay heed to old dance conventions.
Exploring the limits of the human body and visual expression of feelings is what was intended. Also, one of the predecessors to the contemporary dance can be found in the millennium’s old techniques of Zen Buddhism and Indian Health Yoga. These incorporate various dancing philosophies that closely follow the principles of contemporary dance.
These three dancers, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham were among the most critical influences in the beginning of contemporary dance. However, none of them created a style out of whole cloth. Each was a trained dancer working with centuries of discipline and transforming those classic moves into something new.
Ballerinas were quickly noticed. The strong influence of traditional ballet and folk dancers were immediately recognized for their storytelling tendencies. Martha Graham insisted that contemporary dance was always evolving to incorporate new movement styles, new music, and new philosophies. It encompasses the defining characteristic of contemporary dance. Each dancer’s inspiration varies according to time and place and to that indefinable inner voice, the music of the heart.
“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”