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ORIGIN OF DANCE
September, 2017   |    BY BY ARNEL BAGYARATNAM

We have all seen dance routines on shows, movies, and advertisements, on the street, weddings, and what not. It's everywhere. When we see people dancing, we associate it with happiness. Popular dance moves become viral, with the whole world imitating it. Have you ever wondered where it all came from? Who was the first person or who were the first people started to dance?

History of dance

It's hard to trace back the history of dance. Dance, unlike tools, has clear, identifiable artifacts that last forever. How will you know for sure whether it's a statue of a person dancing or is it a statue of a person in a pose?

Dance can be traced back to prehistoric times, like the Bhimbetka rock shelter paintings in India, which are 30,000 years and Tomb paintings in Egypt, which are from 3300 BC.

The paintings in the tomb depicted Egyptians using dance to copy important events such as stories of gods and movements of stars across the sky. A 1400 BC painting from Egypt depicted women dancing for a wealthy male crowd, aided by musicians.

In ancient Greece, there were dance performances before each Olympian Game. The dance wasn't only used for religious purposes in Greece. The festival of Dionysus celebrated to honour the Greek God Dionysus featured dancing for several days.

Dance in Europe

The onset of renaissance brought new music, fashion, and dance. It was a very interesting period for dance forms across Europe. During this period, dance forms such as ballet and waltz spread like wildfire.

  • Ballet

    Ballet can trace its roots back to 15th and 16th century. It started in the Italian Renaissance courts and then spread to France through Catherine de' Medici. In Italy, ballet was a form of entertainment for noble weddings. During this period, ballet was given a definite structure by Pierre Beauchamp. Ballet spread across Europe in courts. In the 18th century, it was structured for storytelling and characters. In the 19th century, female ballet dancers were so popular, they played the roles of males in various stories. The ballet shoes were made and made a part of the dress code. In the 20th century, Russian Ballet was brought to Paris as it was exiled. In the United States, ballet was tailored for media, such as movies and television.

  • Waltz

    13th century peasants from Germany were the first people to come up with Waltz. A rolling folk dance, Waltz was different from other court dances which were popular at that time. Waltz was changed into Weller by the people of Vienna and Nizzarda, a form used by France, by the end of the 16th century. From the mountain regions of Austria and the suburbs of Vienna, the modern form of Waltz was born and it was created for court dances. Waltz was a free form dance, breaking away from the customs of court dancing. It initially faced a revolt from the people who loved the old form of ballroom dance. However, France loved Allemanade, a form of Waltz in the 18th century. ¾ timed waltz gained popularity soon after, sweeping Europe off its feet and removing its scandalous and immoral tag thereafter. It spread to the United States in the middle of the 19th century. By the 20th century, it was everywhere.

Dance in India

A country rich in heritage and culture has 8 traditional dances that are recognised as Indian classical dances. There are numerous folk dances which vary according to the state, geographic, and ethnic regions. Indian dancers were so popular, it influenced dances in South Asia and South East Asia.

The roots of dance in India goes back to the ancient times. In the Vedas, rituals were combined with performing arts. The Natasutras are the earliest forms of texts available that are related to dance.

Classical dance is a type of dance-drama, in the form of total theater. The dancer is a storyteller, speaking through gestures and movement. A majority of these dances use Hindu mythology as their theme. The 8 classical dances are

  • Bharatanatyam

    A classical dance from Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state of India. The practitioners of this art form were mainly women and the dance was mainly done to Carnatic music. The topics for this dance were mainly on divine ideas and Hinduism.

  • Kathakali

    A dance-drama that has its started in Kerala in the 17th century, Kathakali was practiced by the males mainly. Face-masks, vibrant make-up and costumes are its distinguishing characteristics. Hindu mythical legends and plays were performed primarily.

  • Kathak

    Spread by travelling bards of North India, evolved by integrating stories of Krishna, an Indian Hindu god and in the courts of North India. Kathak has 3 forms, which are named after the cities where it developed.

  • Kuchipudi

    Originating from Andhra Pradesh, it developed as a religious dance form due to temples, travelling bards, and spiritual beliefs. The dance was mainly played by Brahmin men, who portrayed both sexes by dressing up accordingly.

  • Odissi

    The roots of Odissi begin from the temples of Odisha, one of the Eastern states in India. The majority of the performers were women and the topics for the dances were mainly spiritual ideas and religious stories.

  • Sattriya

    Sattriya originated from the monasteries of Vaishnavism Assam. It combines religious and aesthetic through dance, ballad, and drama. One of its major influencers is Bhakti movement saint and scholar Srimanta Sankardev.

  • Manipuri

    Manipuri started from the Northeastern state of India, Manipur. It is also known as Jagoi. Popularly known for its Hindu Vaishnavism themes and performances of Radha-Krishna Raslila, a dance drama galvanized by love.

  • Mohiniyattam

    Starting from the state of Kerala, Mohiniyattam gets its name from Mohini, an avatar of Vishnu. The dance has soft and delicate movements. Women are the traditional practitioners, with the dance being expressive and pure, danced to slow styled music.

Modern Dance

Dance exploded in the 20th century as it was the age of exploration and new thinking. Dancers such as Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Isadora Duncan influenced dance forms. The dance was revolutionary as all dance forms started breaking away from the from traditional norms. After the early years of 20th century, many modern dances that are common today were invented such as Foxtrot, Swing, Tango, and much more. The 21st century saw the growth of postmodernism. The direction of postmodernism was simplicity. Initially, costumes and stories were done away with to break away, but as the performances lacked lustre, they slowly made a comeback into dancing. In the late 1960s and 1970s saw the birth of Hip-Hop, a movement that started in the Bronx in New York. New York became the hub for dancers. Performers all over the world used to travel to there to perform. Ballet, Waltz, Tango and many more dances became more competitive as choreographers experimented to produce the most shocking work. Techniques, strength, flexibility reached a new high due to the competitive nature that surrounded all dances.

Dance is still evolving and progressing. Dancers are taking the art form to a whole new platform so that they can stand out and be pioneers. Moreover, with music changing constantly and people being more expressive and open to everything, dancing adapts to it accordingly.

Today, dance is integrated into our lives. Due to its ever-changing nature, it's hard to predict where it will be heading and how it will be in the future.


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