Dance is the movement of the body in a rhythmic way, usually to music and within a given space, for the purpose of expressing an idea or emotion, releasing energy, or simply taking delight in the movement itself.
It is a powerful impulse, but the art of dance is that impulse channeled by skillful performers into something that becomes intensely expressive and that may delight spectators who feel no wish to dance themselves.
One of the most basic motives of dance is the expression and communication of emotion. People—and even certain animals—often dance as a way of releasing powerful feelings, such as sudden accesses of high spirits, joy, impatience, or anger. These motive forces can be seen not only in the spontaneous skipping, stamping, and jumping movements often performed in moments of intense emotion, but also in the more formalized movements of “set” dances, such as tribal war dances or festive folk dances. Here the dance helps to generate emotions as well as release them.
Dance has been part of human history since its earliest origins, bringing transcendence to spiritual rituals and creating bonds within communities.
As a conduit of trance, spiritual force, pleasure, expression, performance and interaction, dance became infused into our nature from the earliest moments of our existence – from the moment when first African tribes covered themselves in war-paint to the to the spreading of music and dance across all four corners of the world. Without a doubt, dancing remains one of the most expressive forms of communications that we know.
The oldest proof of existence of dancing comes from the 9000 year old cave paintings that were found in India, which depicts various scenes of hunting, childbirth, religious rites, burials and most importantly, communal drinking and dancing.
Period when dancing became widespread can be traced to the third millennia BC, when 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.
In Chinese pottery as early as the Neolithic period, groups of people are depicted dancing in a line holding hands, and the earliest Chinese word for “dance” is found written in the oracle bones. Dance is further described in the Lüshi Chunqiu. Primitive dance in ancient China was associated with sorcery and shamanic rituals.
Dance may be performed in religious or shamanic rituals, for example in rain dance performed in times of drought. Shamans dancing for rain is mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. Dance is an important aspect of some religious rites in ancient Egypt, similarly dance is also integral to many ceremonies and rites among African people. Ritual dances may also be performed in temples and during religious festivals, for example the Rasa ritual dances of India (a number of Indian classical dances may have their origin in ritual dances), and the Cham dances of Tibet.
The Bible and Talmud refer to many events related to dance, and contain over 30 different dance terms.
It has been proposed that before the invention of written languages, dance was an important part of the oral and performance methods of passing stories down from one generation to the next. The use of dance in ecstatic trance states and healing rituals (as observed today in many contemporary “primitive” cultures, from the Brazilian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert) is thought to have been another early factor in the social development of dance.
Of course, not all dances in those ancient times were intended for religious purposes. Ordinary people used dance for celebration, entertainment, seduction and to induce the mood of frenzied exhilaration. Annual celebration in honor of Greek god of wine Dionysus (and later Roman god Bacchus) included dancing and drinking for several days. 1400 BC year old Egyptian painting showed the group of scantily dressed girls who danced for the wealthy male crowd, supported by the several musicians. This kind of entertainment continued to be refined, until medieval times and the start of the Renaissance when ballet became integral part of the wealthy class.
The ballet developed out of courtly dramatic productions of 16th- and 17th-century France and Italy and for some time dancers performed dances developed from those familiar from the musical suite, all of which were defined by definite rhythms closely identified with each dance. These appeared as character dances in the era of romantic nationalism.
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. Renaissance dances from Spain, France and Italy were soon surpassed by Baroque dances which became widely popular in French and English courts. 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.
Modern dance is a broad genre of western concert or theatrical dance which included dance styles such as ballet, folk, ethnic, religious, and social dancing – and primarily arose out of Europe and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was considered to have been developed as a rejection of, or rebellion against, classical ballet, and also a way to express social concerns like socioeconomic and cultural factors.
African American dance developed in everyday spaces, rather than in dance studios, schools or companies. Tap dance, disco, jazz dance, swing dance, hip hop dance, the lindy hop with its relationship to rock and roll music and rock and roll dance have had a global influence. Dance styles fusing classical ballet technique with African-American dance have also appeared in the 21st century, including Hiplet.