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History of Dance

Dance in all its forms has been a part of nature since life. The earliest depictions of dance are in rock paintings and Egyptian tomb paintings. Few customs have survived the centuries like dance. Dance began as ritualistic or spiritual and developed over time into many various forms of expression.

The earliest written chronicle of dance is the Indian manuscript Natya Shastra written between 200 BCE and 200 CE. This was a performing arts manuscript covering stagecraft but included classical Indian dance. The influence of this manuscript defined dance for many centuries and is still witnessed in modern day India.

Ancient depictions of dance, such as the tomb paintings, represent ritual dances performed in ceremonies. Ritualistic dance is the best documented and longest surviving of all dance forms. Almost every culture had or still has a form of ceremonial dance used today.

The most famous of the ritualistic dances is the “Rain Dance.” This is performed today by many different cultures from Ethiopia to Native American tribes, who believe the dance will please the gods into making it rain and keep crops alive. These are highly ritualistic with stories woven in the steps and passed down through the generations to preserve the tradition of each culture.

Early western dance had a macabre beginning with death dances often attributed to the frenzied dance of those suffering from bubonic plague as depicted in paintings of the time. By the Middle Ages, dance had grown more popular as a form of entertainment in royal courts with the Waltz being most well-known.

Ballet, which started in the late 1400’s in Italy has persevered through the centuries and is considered one of the highest artistic forms of dance. It was from ballet that modern dance was born. As standards on what was considered immoral dance lifted, modern dance quickly blossomed to allow more individuality and creativity.

Different cultures and their music have influenced modern dance creating many varying forms of expression like, jazz, swing but the U.S. is best known for embracing change and promoting new forms of dance. The 1960’s heralded the post-modern era of dance that rejected the formal dance moves and embraced more contemporary expressive dance we experience today.

The history of dance is as long as that of humans. It has been and is still used for ritualistic purposes but is has experienced its greatest growth in the last century as a form of artistic expression and entertainment that will continue to evolve for as long as humans exist.


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