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Dance Music


Alternative dance
Hard dance
Hip hop dance
Social dance

A contemporary dancer rehearsing A contemporary dancer rehearsing

Dance (from Old French dancier, perhaps from Frankish) generally refers to human movement either used as a form of expression or presented in a social, spiritual or performance setting.

Dance is also used to describe methods of non-verbal communication (see body language) between humans or animals (bee dance, mating dance), motion in inanimate objects (the leaves danced in the wind), and certain musical forms or genres.

People who dance are called dancers and the act of dance is known as dancing. An event where dancing takes place may be called a dance. Choreography is the art of making dances, and the person who does this is called a choreographer.

Definitions of what constitutes dance are dependent on social, cultural, aesthetic artistic and moral constraints and range from functional movement (such as Folk dance) to codified, virtuoso techniques such as ballet. In sports, gymnastics, figure skating and synchronized swimming are dance disciplines while Martial arts 'kata' are often compared to dances.

Origins of dance

Unlike other early human activities such as the production of stone tools, hunting, cave painting, etc., dance does not leave behind physical artifacts or evidence. Thus, it is impossible to say with any certainty when dance became part of human culture. However, dance has certainly been an important part of ceremony, rituals, celebrations and entertainment since the birth of the earliest human civilizations. The origins of dance are traceable through archeological evidence from prehistoric times such as Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from circa 3300 BC to the first examples of written documentation from circa 200 BC.

One of the earliest structured uses of dance may have been in the performative retelling of mythological stories--Indeed, before the introduction of written languages, dance was one of the primary methods of passing these stories down from generation to generation. [1]

Another early use of dance may have been as a precursor to ecstatic trance states in healing rituals. Dance is still used for this purpose by cultures from the Brazillian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert.[2]

Rock-shelter drawings in India reveal the earliest examples of dance. Figure E-19 at the Bhim-Betka rock-shelters, drawing of 'urddhakeshin' Shiva at Nawda Todo, forms of monkeys at Gupteshvara and a number of human figures at Pahadgarh, Tikla and Abachand present evidence of dance being in prevalence those days. These drawings belong to the period from 5000 to 2000 B. C. As reveal the stone statuette of male dancer from Harappa and the bronze figurine of dancing girl from Mohenjodaro, the Indus Valley civilization had a well-evolved dance culture stretching in all probabilities from its real life to its artefacts.

Many contemporary dance forms can be traced back to historical, traditional, ceremonial, and ethnic dances

Dancing and music

Although dance and music can be traced back to prehistoric times it is unclear which artform came first. However, as rhythm and sound are the result of movement, and music can inspire movement, the relationship between the two forms has always been symbiotic.

Many early forms of music and dance were created and performed together. This paired development has continued through the ages with dance/music forms such as: Jig, Waltz, Tango, Disco, Salsa, Electronica and Hip-Hop. Some musical genre also have a parallel dance form such as Baroque music and Baroque dance where as others developed separately:

Although dance is often accompanied by music, it can also be presented alone (Postmodern dance) or provide its own accompaniment (tap dance). Dance presented with music may or may not be performed in time to the music depending on the style of dance. Dance performed without music is said to be danced to its own rhythm.

Dance in Indian Canonical Literature

The first millennium B. C. in India has been the era of canonical texts seeking to set the rules of social management, private life, linguistic discipline, public finance, state policy, poetics, dramatics. In the matter of dance, Bharata Muni's 'Natyashastra' is the earliest available text.

Though its main theme was drama, it dealt with dance also at a considerable length. On one hand, it elaborated various gestures of hands, which a dance comprised, and on the other, classified such gestures and movements as graceful and more vigorous; the former, defining the 'lalita' form of dance - 'lasya'; and the latter, its vigorous form 'tandava'. Dance has been classified under four categories and into four regional varieties. It named these categories as secular; ritual; abstract; and, interpretive. Bharata's regional geography has completely changed and is hardly identifiable, and so has regional varieties except one - 'Odra Magadhi', which after decades long debate, has been identified as present day Mithila-Orissa region and the dance form, as Odissi.

Dance-styles many times died and as many times revived and so did Bharata's perception. But, despite, in his interpretive dance the distant roots of the present day 'Kathak' might be traced; so those of 'Bharatanatyam' and Odissi, in his ritual dance; and, of 'Mohini Attam' and 'Kuchipudi', in his secular dance. Abstractness is now the feature of almost all classical Indian dance forms.

Dance as an art form in Europe

John White's eye-witness interpretation of a Native American dance at Roanoke, Virginia, 1585, is affected by his knowledge of Elizabethan court dance John White's eye-witness interpretation of a Native American dance at Roanoke, Virginia, 1585, is affected by his knowledge of Elizabethan court dance

As European culture became more cosmopolitan, dances from various areas were practiced outside of those areas, on the one hand, and new dances began to be invented, especially in Italy. As dances began to be performed outside of their cultural context, instruction manuals were now required.[3]

The first dance academy was the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Dance Academy), opened in Paris in 1661. Shortly thereafter, the first institutionalized ballet troupe, associated with the Academy, was formed; this troupe began as an all-male ensemble but by 1681 opened to include women as well.[1]

At the beginning of the 20th century, there was an explosion of innovation in dance style characterized by an exploration of freer technique. Early pioneers of what became known as modern dance include Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman and Ruth St. Denis. The relationship of music to dance serves as the basis for Eurhythmics, devised by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, which was influential to the development of Modern dance and modern ballet through artists such as Marie Rambert.

Eurythmy, developed by Rudolf Steiner and Lori Maier-Smits, combines formal elements reminiscent of traditional dance with the new freer style, and introduced a complex new vocabulary to dance. In the 1920s, important founders of the new style such as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey began their work. Since this time, a wide variety of dance styles have been developed.

Dance studies

In the early 1920s dance studies (dance practice, critical theory, analysis and history) began to be considered a serious academic discipline. Today these studies are an integral part of many universities' arts and humanities programs. By the late 20th century the recognition of practical knowledge as equal to academic knowledge lead to the emergence of practice-based research and practice as research. A large range of dance courses are available including:

  • Professional practice: performance and technical skills
  • Practice-based research: choreography and performance
  • Ethnochoreology, encompassing the dance-related aspects of Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Area studies, Postcolonial theory, Ethnography, etc.
  • Dance-Movement Therapy.
  • Dance and technology: new media and performance technologies.
  • Laban Movement Analysis and Somatic studies
  • Community Dance.

A full range of Academic degrees are available from BA (Hons) to PhD and other postdoctoral fellowships, with many dance scholars taking up their studies as mature students after a professional dance career.

Categories of dance

Dance can be divided into two main categories that each have several subcategories into which most dance styles can be placed. They are:

  • Concert dance / Performance dance
    • 20th century concert dance
    • Competitive dance
  • Social dance / Participation dance
    • Ceremonial dance
    • Traditional dance

Gaskell Ball Gaskell Ball

These categories are not mutually exclusive and are context-dependent; a particular dance style may belong to several categories.

Dance as an occupation

In the U.S. many professional dancers are members of unions such as the American Guild of Musical Artists, the Screen Actors Guild and Actors' Equity Association. The unions help determine working conditions and minimum salaries for their members.

The median earnings of U.S. dancers is about $21,000 per year with the top 10% making over $50,000 per year. Dancers may receive other benefits from their jobs such as room and board (for touring production). Professional dancers often have the opportunity to teach as well.

Classical Indian Dance in Modern Times

During the reign of the last Mughals and Nawabs of Oudh dance fell down to the status of 'nautch', an unethical sensuous thing of courtesans.

Later, linking dance with immoral trafficking and prostitution, British rule prohibited public performance of dance. Many disapproved it. In 1947, India won her freedom and for dance an ambience where it could regain its past glory. Classical forms and regional distinctions were re-discovered, ethnic specialties were honored and by synthesizing them with the individual talents of the masters in the line and fresh innovations emerged dance with a new face but with classicism of the past.

Further reading

  • Adshead-Lansdale, J. (Ed) (1994) Dance History: An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 041509030X
  • Carter, A. (1998) The Routledge Dance Studies Reader. Routledge. ISBN 0415164478
  • Cohen, S, J. (1992) Dance As a Theatre Art: Source Readings in Dance History from 1581 to the Present. Princeton Book Co. ISBN 0871271737
  • Charman, S. Kraus, R, G. Chapman, S. and Dixon-Stowall, B. (1990) History of the Dance in Art and Education. Pearson Education. ISBN 0133893626
  • Daly, A. (2002) Critical Gestures: Writings on Dance and Culture. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819565660
  • Dils, A. (2001) Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819564133

External links


  1. ^ a b NATHALIE COMTE. Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. Ed. Jonathan Dewald. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. p94-108.
  2. ^ Guenther, Mathias Georg. 'The San Trance Dance: Ritual and Revitalization Among the Farm Bushmen of the Ghanzi District, Republic of Botswana.' Journal, South West Africa Scientific Society, v30, 1975-76.
  3. ^ [1]