Dance is one of the most popular artistic disciplines, one which is espied in virtually every human society. It isn’t only a way of exercise and entertainment, but has also been a major way for people to express themselves as they move their bodies in sync with a rhythm or music sometimes synchronizing their motion with others.
From time and immemorial, dance has gone hand in hand with ancient ceremonies, spiritual and social gatherings. Since the earliest moments of mankind, dance has permeated into our essence. Dancing undeniably has always been of the most eloquent ways of communication that we humans are familiar with.
Studying the history and evolution of dance is an onerous task since dance hasn’t usually left behind physical artifacts like stone tools or toys, etc. For this reason, it is difficult to ascertain when dance became a component of human culture. However, the existence of dance can actually be traced back to pre-historic times. Due to the lack of physical artifact finds, historians have analyzed alternate sources like paintings. Consequently, some of the oldest evidence of dance have been found in the 30,000-year-old Bhimbetka rock shelter cave paintings in Madhya Pradesh, India. Prehistoric cave paintings depicting dance have also been found in parts of Europe and Africa, one of the best examples of which is the ‘Dancing sorcerer’ within the cave of Trois Feres in France.
It is widely speculated that since prehistoric humans didn’t have any linguistic abilities, they probably had used dance as a tool for communication and social interaction. Numerous paintings in Egypt have also been discovered which depict dancing figures from 3300 BCE. Dance was one of the integral parts of religious rites and ceremonies in Egypt. It was also used to simulate important events and stories of Gods by the Egyptians. Dance for purposes of entertainment and celebration was also prevalent in ancient India which can be glimpsed in the ancient Sanskrit text called ‘Natya Shastra’. Dance was also prevalent among the ancient Greeks where it was seen as a gift from God. Under the Greeks, dance attained a pluralistic form in the context of styles and purpose. The Greeks danced not only for ritualistic purposes but also for celebration, dramas and other special events. An annual festival in ancient Greece was celebrated in honour of the Greek god Dionysus consisted of several days of drinking and dancing.
However, as we move onto the Middle Ages in Europe, dances preceding the Renaissance period weren’t very described or documented. This was probably due to the fact that the Christian Church which dominated over the European society at that time, looked down upon dance and saw it as an unprincipled activity. This gave rise to the practice of Nocturnal Dancing as people belonging to various sections of the society danced in the night to avoid any scrutiny by the Church.
The arrival of the Renaissance brought in many new styles of dance and forms of music. Consequently, a style of dancing known as the ‘Ballet’ became an essential part of the lifestyle of the wealthy upper classes in Europe. The Ballet originated as a courtly dance and the court would participate in performances for leisure, but eventually, it evolved into an extravagant performance art. The ballet style of dancing has been evolving since in terms of costumes, choreography, plot, etc.
There were also other dance styles that emerged in the early 19th century and became immensely popular in the Western World, like the ‘Polka’ style and the famous ‘Waltz’ style. These dance styles were majorly based upon less restrictive women wear and emphasis was given on skipping and leaping. After the era of such ballroom dancing, several modern dances arrived at the scene in the 20th century like ‘Foxtrot’, ‘Tango’, ‘Jazz’, etc which were mostly two-person dance styles. Eventually, from the 1960s onwards, a new era of Post- modernism began which inclined towards simplicity, unsophisticated movements and the beauty of the untrained body. Further new dance styles were born during this era with which most of us may be familiar like ‘Street’ and ‘Hip Hop’ dance. Percussive beats in music for such dance styles are very aggressive and the songs have extended breaks. This formed a culture of ‘Break Boys’ and ‘Break Girls’, who further founded ‘Break dancing’ which is now an integral part of hip- hop dance. The present era of Globalization has brought different cultures and traditions closer and this has resulted in the fusion of different dance styles, but at the same time, the individual identities of different styles have been kept intact.
Feature Image Credits: Surbhit Rastogi for DU Beat