Of Origin and Development of Dance

Sat, Oct 31, 2020 3-minute read

Since beginning of civilization there was a close relationship between dance and play, as natural manifestations of both vitality and human expressiveness. Thus, the so-called instinct of play and the spontaneous inclination to dance could be equated. In this sense, dance must be regarded as a manifestation of the surplus energy of the human being or as a cathartic activity, of liberation of one’s impulses.

Dance presents the intrinsic peculiarity of being an intangible and fleeting art, which merges into the bodies of those who perform it and perishes at the end of the movement. As a result, its representation was incomplete and static practically throughout history until cinematic techniques allowed the moving image to be reproduced.

The study of the cultural modes manifested by the primitive tribes that still survive makes it possible to assume with some certainty that dance, understood as rhythmic movement of the body, with or without sound accompaniment, began to be shaped around the sound produced by the feet of the dancers, who, through their body, individual or collective expression was created. Over time more attention was paid to what would become the essence of dance: the rhythm. The accompaniment of gestures and movements would be successively reinforced by secondary body movements (clapping hands), percussion and, later, instrumentation.

According to anthropological speculations, the first human dances were individual and related to courtship. The collectives also appeared at the origin of civilization and its function, utilitarian and evocative within a religious context, was associated with the worship of higher forces or spirits to achieve success in war or hunting expeditions, or to request food or rain. The rain-invoking dances persisted for centuries in some places, and the belief in the rain-making god remained alive in the cultural heritage of the North American Indians. Primitive dance thus enclosed a symbolic value and, in it, the dancers did not represent concrete people, but incarnated a spirit, a higher power expressed through whom he danced. In such tribal dances, all the dancers were actors and played a role in the ensemble.

This allowed them to divided the main roles, those of the choir or those that accompanied the rhythm with instruments or with their hands. It was a collective ritual ceremony in which everything—rhythms, steps, masks, dresses—obeyed a definitive pattern. In this context, the manifestations of animist cults (a belief that all object hold a spirit or essence) such as voodoo or macumba, which still persist in Haiti and Brazil respectively, must be placed as the ultimate expression of the catharsis of dance.

With its introduction into human knowledge, the broadening of of artistic sensibility, dance determined the configuration of culture as an aesthetic manifestation. In ancient Greece, the muse of this art, Terpsicore, inspired the dancers and gave them grace and agility, traits that would be accentuated throughout history to culminate in what is perhaps the most exquisite of the manifestations of dance, ballet. In other words, the evolution of dance determined the emergence of courtly and palatial styles, and in particular of expressions of popular dance that form the root of tradition and folklore.

Without dance it is uncertain how we would have be able to develop as it has touched nearly every aspect of humankind’s history: influencing religion, society and art.

The origins lay in a time before our species documented its existence.