Courtney YostMs. TilleryAP Literature17 November 2011 The History of Dance and its Importance in Life The art of dance has always been a prominent characteristic in society and religionthroughout the ages. Many cultures express themselves through the act of moving to convey theirthoughts and religious beliefs. Nowadays, many use dance as a way to meet and relate to people,articulate emotions, and to push the limits of performance to a new level. Above all, danceprovides a great cardiovascular and aerobic workout for both children and adults. For many,dance is an essential part of life, without it, people would not be able to function well in society,and would have no healthy outlet for strong sentiments. Dance has made its mark on history byeven defining fashion and behavior in certain decades. Pre-historic Greece marked an epoch inthe development of dance, continued the course of history, and maintained its importance up topresent, modern day social dancing. Contrary to today, the Bronze-Age civilization of Greece, on the island of Crete,performed dances for harvesting and animals. It is even written in Homer’s Iliad that thereis a scene with “a vintage dance where youths, both men and women, dance as they harvest thegrapes, while in their midst a boy plays the lyre and sings the Linus-song” (Bleiberg vol. 2 ). TheIliad showed how the people of Crete used dance as a form of a harvest festival and how theythought this dance would help with the harvest of grapes. It conveyed that it was a time ofcelebration and happiness for the youth of Crete. Another dance founded on the island of Crete
was called the Geranos “where performers imitated the flight of cranes, or costumed themselvesas cranes,” or it was also contemplated that they were not dressed as cranes but dressed “torepresent a snake…in rituals to honor a great serpent such as a python” (Bleiberg vol. 2). TheGeranos dance was a way of expressing their admiration and respect for a snake or a crane. Theybelieved in the sacredness and were awestruck of the animals because of their almightiness.Hyporchema, another dance of Crete, was “a lively choral hymn sung to the god Apollo whichincluded interpretative dancing… festivals and sacrifices to the god” (Bleiberg vol. 2). Dancingduring a sacrificial ritual was a very common aspect of Pre-historic Greek life, and was thoughtto be very respectful and a gift to the god. They danced and sang for the god Apollo, the god ofthe sun, in a festive way, while also giving sacrifices to him. Ultimately in Pre-historic Greektimes, dance was used for sacrifices to gods and the appreciation of nature. Lituragal dance became a monumental feature in the Church, especially whencelebrating Christmas and Easter. Europe became an emphatic “primary mode of religiousexpression” (Friedland) and a “tradition [that] continued throughout the Middle Ages…[with]girls dancing during the Easter celebrations in London and references to thirteenth-centuryclerics in Gournay (near Rouen, France) dancing as a part of the feasts of the Innocents and of St.Madeline” (Bleiberg vol. 3). Religious celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter, were a timewhen the Church infused dance to celebrate the festivities of the holidays. Prayers were recitedwhile dancing during these sacred occasions and were encouraged greatly at everycommemoration. Though contrary to the festive dances, members of the Church, such as monksand bishops were declaring “that dancing was frowned upon because it was considered to havepagan as well as erotic overtones” (Bleiberg vol. 3). During this time, it was thought that peoplewho were caught dancing were dancing for the devil and not anything spiritual. There were
rumors that terrible things would happen to those around people who danced, so dancing inpublic became fearful for those who believed in such tales. Nevertheless, dance was a very vitalaspect in religion, but also a dark omen for those who deemed it so. Later, in the Middle Ages, dancing became more of a social gathering rather than aspiritual rite. In the country side and even in the court “it could be a way of expressinghappiness, a casual relief from the toils of daily labors, an occasion for amorous flirtation, or avehicle for displaying elegance and wealth” (Bleiberg vol. 3). Dancing in the Middle Ages freedmany people from the troubles of life, and instead gave them something to look forward to andgave an outlet for those not well-known in society to mingle. The dancing could consist of biggroups, or for partners, but nothing very physical. There were also two distinctly differentdances, the first was a Convential Dance, “in which a single set of steps is repeated over and overuntil the music stops,” the other was choreographed dances where “each dance has a uniquesequence of steps” (Bleiberg vol. 3). Both types of dances were extremely diverse from oneanother in that they both had different purposes and foundations. Both have survived to this veryday in society, but are very different these days. In the Middle Ages, there were also many newoccasions to dance outside of the religious and spiritual reasons, where “people danced atweddings, on holidays, and at political or cultural gatherings, as well as for simple eveningentertainment” (Bleiberg vol. 3). Occasions for dancing have not greatly differed over thecenturies, but dancing styles have indeed changed. The main difference in the events is thatsociety normally does not dance for religious or spiritual occasions. In short, many of the basicforms of dancing today were discovered centuries ago and admired greatly. After the Middle Ages, dance was a very influential feature in French society where theCourt presented ballet regularly, and even king Louis XVI performed with them. With the
French being so enthusiastic about ballet, they incorporated it in Operas “to ensure that dancewas an accompaniment and enhancement to the sung drama” whereas the “role of dancing wasexpanded beyond a mere diversion and brought into the central flow of the operas story line”(Bleiberg vol. 5). In the establishment of ballet, the dances during the opera performances wereoriginally performed by men, but some women got to be in the shows if they hid their faces withmasks. Dance was incorporated in the operas to enchant the audience and give the real show abreak. After accompanying the Opera, the French brought a new style forward for ballet withstorytelling because “a tension soon developed between the demands of technical brilliance anddramatic representation [in the Opera]” (Bleiberg vol. 5). People all around soon realized thatthere was a lot more to ballet than just entertainment. Ballet became a dramatically challengingfeature in the entertainment business of not only France, but Europe as a whole. Since the start ofballet in France, ballet has become a very trying art form and has kept up its expectations andrespect throughout the years. Ballet created a platform and solid background for various ballroom dances such as theSalsa, the Foxtrot, Swing dance, the Charleston, the Samba, the Rhumba, and the Tango. Timeswere changing to where the “main impetus of social dancing was the musics rhythm and theimpulse that it gave to dancing” (Escoffier). Most people wanted to go out and have a good timeby dancing with a partner to one of the newest songs or styles of dancing, which were allcollaborative. Taking someone dancing for a date was considered the thing to do when partnerdancing became the new fad. Out of all the partner dances, the Foxtrot was the most illustrious“because it combined slow and quick steps, allowing for an increased diversity of dance-floormovement” (Edelman). During such a time when modesty was becoming vastly overrated, thefoxtrot was a way people could get together and dance up-close with one another. The
movements were easy enough to follow for the average person wanting to learn a new dance anddo it well enough to impress their dance partner. Aside from the little population that disagreedwith partner dancing in the twentieth Century, many people enjoyed the risqué yet fun styles ofdancing and still partake in the many forms of partner dances to this day. Nowadays, dance is a very social form of life that is innovative, fun, and alwaysaffecting with whichever way societies’ current is moving. Hip-hop and break dancing are formsof dance that derived from street dancing and consisted of “acrobatic moves—such as splits,headstands, flips, and handsprings—spinning on their shoulders, backs, and heads in an oftendazzling display of athletics and choreography” (Baughman vol. 9). Being influenced by gangsand their inventive solution to gang violence, hip hop was and still is frowned upon by thosemore conservative in their way of life. Hip hop is very much praised by the younger generation,giving them a way to dance that is not necessarily structured and a fun way to express oneself.Modern dance became a new form of expression “unlike classical ballet, modern dance wasspontaneous, expressionistic, jazzy…” it had the feel of “…uncertain balance between walkingand falling, and constructed a rigorous dance technique around it” (Baughman vol. 5). Many whodid not like the strictness of ballet turned to Modern and found it to be a new, excellent way tocommunicate new ideas and feelings. With having to convey the message of the dance not onlythrough body, but through facial expressions, it allowed dancers to spread original thoughtsthrough this form of dance. With attention to expressing oneself, hip hop and modern dance are acouple of the many influential dances of this time. Previously, dance was just a form of entertainment, but now it is a source of exercisethat helps maintain a healthy and active body. The AARP stated that “regular physical activity ingeneral can help keep your body, including your brain, healthy as you age” (Lets Dance to
Health). Your body, through dance, can tone up in a matter of few days and helps maintainmuscle while aging. It is encouraged to dance regularly to keep your body fit by constantphysical movement and is beneficial to your brain by having to keep up with memory bymemorizing steps. Dance is a perfect way to stay in shape because it “consists of cardiovascularconditioning, strength and resistance training, and flexibility.” (Sisk) In dance, there are noweights or machines, but the human body has to resist gravity and has to learn flexibleness toperform the many trying moves. The human heart stays fit from the fast motions of the body andthe activeness of every muscle. For this reason, many people these days stay active and fitthrough dancing. In conclusion, dance has been a fundamental aspect in any society throughout the ages.From the beginning of time, dance has upheld its essentialness in every cultures way of life, andremained important through physical activity and expression through art in this age in time. TheCretans began with dancing for gods and animals to show appreciation and admiration. Derivedfrom that, the Church had its quarrels about the nature of dance and its intentions in life. As aresult, the Middle Ages changed dance to a charismatic and fun gathering of people with setsteps and movements. With the idea of dance being entertainment, the French created a new stylethat set forth many new ideas for performing. Ballet began the basic essentials for partnerdancing in the twentieth century of America when the foxtrot was a breakthrough in dancehistory and extremely popular. Closer to the twenty-first century, dance became a freedom ofexpression through youth with Hip hop, break dancing, and modern dance. Furthermore, dancebecame a form of exercise and a base for a healthy life for as long as one lives. In summary,dance has made a huge contribution to history, wellness, and physical and mental health.
Works CitedBaughman, Judith S. "Dance." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. ."Hip-Hop Culture." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.. AARP. "Lets Dance to Health." aarp.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.Bleiberg, Edward I. "Conventional Dance Formations and Steps ." Gale Virtual ReferenceLibrary. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. ."Dance in Prehistoric Greece ." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. ."Dancing in Medieval Life." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. ."Sacred and Symbolic Dance." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. .Bleigberg, Edward I. "The Rise of the Ballet in France." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p.,n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. .Edelman, Rob. "Dancing." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov.2011. .Escoffier, Jeffrey. "Social Dancing." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web.17 Nov. 2011. .Friedland, Leeellen. "Dance: Popular and Folk Dance [First Edition]." Gale VirtualReference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. .Sisk, Jennifer E. "Exercise." Gale Virtual Reference Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. .