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Dance (from French danser, perhaps from Frankish) generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music [1] used as a form of expression, social interaction or presented in a spiritual or performance setting.

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

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 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.

Dance can be participatory, social or performed for an audience. It can also be ceremonial, competitive or erotic. Dance movements may be without significance in themselves, such as in ballet or European folk dance, or have a gestural vocabulary/symbolic system as in many Asian dances. Dance can embody or express ideas, emotions or tell a story.

Choreography is the art of creating dances, and the person who does this is called a choreographer.

Origins and history of dance

Dance does not leave behind clearly identifiable physical artifacts such as stone tools, hunting implements or cave painting. It is not possible to say when dance became part of human culture. Dance has certainly been an important part of ceremony, rituals, celebrations and entertainment since before the birth of the earliest human civilizations. Archeology delivers traces of dance from prehistoric times such as Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from circa 3300 BC and the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka paintings in India.

One of the earliest structured uses of dance may have been in the performance and telling of myths. Before the introduction of written languages, dance was one of the 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 Brazilian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert.[2]

Sri Lankan dances goes back to the mythological times of aboriginal yingyang twins and "yakkas" (devils). According to a Sinhalese legend, Kandyan dances originate, 2500 years ago, from a magic ritual that broke the spell on a bewitched king. Many contemporary dance forms can be traced back to historical, traditional, ceremonial, and ethnic dances.

Dance classification and genres

Template:Main Dance categories by number of interacting dancers are mainly Solo dance, Partner dance and Group dance. Dance is preformed for various purposes like Ceremonial dance, Erotic dance, Performance dance, Social dance etc.

Dancing and music

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 genres also have a parallel dance form such as Baroque music and Baroque dance whereas others developed separately: Classical music, Classical ballet.

Although dance is often accompanied by music, it can also be presented independently 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 studies and techniques

In the early 1920s dance studies (dance practice, critical theory, Musical analysis and history) began to be considered an 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:

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.

Dancing is evolved in so many different styles. Breakdancing and Crumping which is related to the hip hop culture. African dance which is interperative. Ballet, Ballroom, Waltz, and Tango are classical styles of dance. While square and the infamous electric slide are forms of step dances.

Dance competitions

A dance competition is an organized event in which contestants perform dances before a common group of judges for awards and, in some cases, monetary prizes. There are several major types of dance competitions, distinguished primarily by the style or styles of dances performed. Major types of dance competitions include:

Dance occupations

There are different careers connected with dancing: Dancer, dance teacher, dance sport coach, dance therapist and choreographer.


Dance training differs depending on the dance form. There are university programs and schools associated with professional dance companies for training in classical dance (e.g. Ballet) and modern dance. There are also smaller, privately owned dance studios where students may train in a variety of dance forms including competitive dance forms (e.g. Latin dance, ballroom dance, etc.) as well as ethnic/traditional dance forms.

Professional dancers are usually employed on contract or for particular performances/productions. The professional life of a dancer is generally one of constantly changing work situations, strong competition pressure and low pay. Professional dancers often need to supplement their income, either in dance related roles (e.g., dance teaching, dance sport coaches, yoga or Pilates instruction) to achieve financial stability.

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.

Dance teachers

Dance teacher and operators of dance schools rely on reputation and marketing. For dance forms without an association structure such as Salsa or Tango Argentino they may not have formal training. Most dance teachers are self employed.

Dancesport coaches

Dancesport coaches are tournament dancers or former dancesports people, and may be recognised by a dance sport federation.


Choreographers are generally university trained and are typically employed for particular projects or, more rarely may work on contract as the resident choreographer for a specific dance company. A choreographic work is protected intellectual property. Dancers may undertake their own choreography.

Dance by ethnicity or region

Dance in South Asia


Dance in Indian canonical literature: In the first millennium BCE in India many texts were composed which sought to state the rules of social management, private life, linguistic discipline, public finance, state policy, poetics, and dramatics. In the matter of dance, Bharata Muni's Natyashastra (literally "the art of dance") is the one of the earlier texts.

Though the main theme of Natyashastra deals with drama, dance also finds mention. It elaborates various gestures of hands and classifies such gestures and movements as either graceful or vigorous, defining the lalita form of dance - lasya; and the vigorous form 'tandava'.

Dance is classified under four categories and into four regional varieties. Natyashastra names these categories as secular, ritual, abstract, and, interpretive. Regional geography has altered since ancient India's time and so have regional varieties of Indian dances. Dances like "Odra Magadhi", which after decades long debate, has been traced to present day Mithila-Orissa region's dance form of Odissi, indicate influence of dances in cultural interactions between different regions.[3]

The roots of the present day Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Mohini Attam and Kuchipudi are found in ancient Indian civilization. Abstractness is now the feature of almost all classical Indian dance forms.

Classical Indian dance since 1947: During the reign of the last 'Mughals' and Nawabs of Oudh dance fell down to the status of 'nautch', a sensuous dance 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.

Archaeology delivers traces of dance from prehistoric times such as Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from circa 3300 BC and the Bhimbetka rock-shelter paintings in India.

Bhangra in the Punjab

The Punjab area overlapping India and Pakistan is the place of origin of Bhangra. It is widely known both as a style of music and a dance. It is mostly related to ancient harvest celebrations, love, patriotism or current social issues. Its music is coordinated by a musical instrument called the 'Dhol'. Its beats is what gives the human body the vibes in the dance movements. Bhangra isn't just music but a dance. It's actually the celebration of the harvest where people beat the dhol (drum), sing Boliyaan (lyrics) and dance!

Dances of Sri Lanka

The devil dances of Sri Lank] or "yakun natima" are a carefully crafted ritual with a history reaching far back into Sri Lanka's pre-Buddhist past. It combines ancient "Ayurvedic" concepts of disease causation with psychological manipulation. The dance combines many aspects including Sinhalese cosmolgy, the dances also has an impact on the classical dances of Sri Lanka.[4]

In Europe and North America

Concert (or performance) dance

Ballet developed first in Italy and then in France from lavish court spectacles that combined music, drama, poetry, song, costumes and dance. Members of the court nobility took part as performers. During the reign of Louis XIV, himself a dancer, dance became more codified. Professional dancers began to take the place of court amateurs, and ballet masters were licensed by the French government. The first ballet 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]

During the 18th century, ballets were still mainly performed alongside opera or poetry, but the idea of dance performance as separate from sung or spoken word began to be experimented with. Mime, instead, was used to tell the stories of these ballets. Female professional dancers began to take their place onstage, having previously been hampered by social norms; they performed in high-heeled shoes and long, full skirts. Later they wore short, stiff, yet fluffy, skirts called tutus.

During the Pre-Romantic era in ballet, the art form changed rapidly. Costume reforms were made, especially for women; these reforms were in part a result of the French Revolution. Heeled street shoes were replaced by slippers, and corsets and heavy petticoats were discarded, and tights were invented. Simple en pointe work was introduced by ballerinas such as Fanny Elssler and Marie Taglioni, who heavily darned their slippers in order to be able to rise up briefly on their toes. The seven movements of dance (to bend, to rise, to stretch, to glide, to jump, to turn, and to dart) were codified in 1796.

The period of time between 1830 and 1870 is classified as the Romantic era of ballet. A format developed for ballets crafted in this period: the first act was set in the real world and the second in a supernatural or otherworldly setting. Most ballerinas portrayed creatures such as wilis, sylphs and nymphs wearing long white skirts, today called Romantic tutus. Ballets choreographed during this time period included Giselle in 1841, La Sylphide in 1832, and Coppelia in 1870. The Romantic Era came to a close when ballet lost popularity in Western Europe due to competition by music halls and a lack of strong male dancers and choreography.

St. Petersburg became the center of ballet during the second half of the 19th century; the art form was supported by the patronage of the czars and the success of the Imperial Ballet, its school (forerunner of the Kirov Ballet) and the talent of Marius Petipa. Hard or blocked pointe shoes were introduced during this period, as were short tutus (today known as classical tutus, these skirts take their name from this era, which was the Russian Classical). Many story ballets (The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire) were produced during this period. Although the coming of the Russian Revolution boded ill for the art form, Nicholas Sergeyev, last régisseur of the Imperial Ballet, smuggled the choreographic notation documenting the Imperial Ballet's repertory out of Russia and into the West. Hence many of the ballets survived, and are still performed today.

The Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev was instrumental in bringing ballet back to Western Europe and allowing for its evolution into a 20th century art form. Although not a dancer nor a choreographer, Diaghilev was an avid dance and music patron. He assembled a troupe of Russian composers, dancers, choreographers and designers; as the Diaghilev Ballet Russes, this troupe toured Europe and the United States. Diaghilev was one of the foremost influences upon ballet in the new century, and he helped to launch the careers of such artists as Anna Pavlova, Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, and George Balanchine, among others. After Diaghilev's death, the company disbanded. Many of his dancers settled in Western Europe and the United States. Michel Fokine joined American Ballet Theatre in 1940 as its resident choreographer; George Balanchine also came to America and founded the New York City Ballet in 1934. It was Balanchine who developed what is now known as the "neo-classical" style of ballet.

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; see Modern dance.

The United States

African American dances are those dances which have developed within African American communities in everyday spaces, rather than in dance studios, schools or companies and its derivatives, Tap dance, Disco, Jazz dance, Swing dance, hip hop dance and breakdance. Other dances, such as the lindy hop with its relationship to rock and roll music and rock and roll dance have also had a global influence.

See also


Related topics

Further reading

  • Adshead-Lansdale, J. (Ed) (1994) Dance History: An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09030-X
  • Carter, A. (1998) The Routledge Dance Studies Reader. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-16447-8
  • Cohen, S, J. (1992) Dance As a Theatre Art: Source Readings in Dance History from 1581 to the Present. Princeton Book Co. ISBN 0-87127-173-7
  • Charman, S. Kraus, R, G. Chapman, S. and Dixon-Stowall, B. (1990) History of the Dance in Art and Education. Pearson Education. ISBN 0-13-389362-6
  • Daly, A. (2002) Critical Gestures: Writings on Dance and Culture. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-6566-0
  • Dils, A. (2001) Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-6413-3
  • Miller, James, L. (1986) Measures of Wisdom: The Cosmic Dance in Classical and Christian Antiquity, University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802025536

External links

  1. 1.0 1.1 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. Dance: The Living Spirit of Indian Arts, by Prof. P. C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet.
  4. "The yakun natima - devil dance ritual of Sri Lanka" at WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka