Do you enjoy professional dance shows or are you one of those who dance until dawn when you go out to party? Then discover the history of dance, the events and characters behind those movements and rhythms that catch your attention.
The history of dance is intrinsically related to the human need for communication that, as you might guess, goes back to the traceable origins of our species.
In this post, we propose a summary of the history of dance with those moments where there has been a turning point in its evolution, as well as the most representative figures and types of dances. It is a journey from the emergence of folk dances to the iconic dance of Michael Jackson.
put on your sneakers and get ready to discover everything about the origins of dance!
What are the origins of dance?
Dance is one of the types of human bodily expression that allows us to express feelings and moods through rhythmic movements, contortions and jumps, often accompanied by musical sounds.
The origin of dance is located in prehistoric times, where it generally had a spiritual character, as it was used as part of different rituals.
The first rhythmic movements in the incipient human societies served to celebrate rituals and traditions that were transmitted from generation to generation.
By ritualizing dances for births, weddings, deaths, wars or for the fertility of the earth and women, a spiritual character was given to the dance that would be maintained in the future and that would be fundamental for the dance to become one of the most important arts in ancient civilizations.
The history of dance in ancient Greece and Rome
The history of dance continues with ancient dance, and it is from this time that we begin to have written testimonies, in the form of sculptures or paintings, of the dances that were performed in those times.
In the Greek and Roman civilizations a dichotomy was established between dance as a popular or folkloric expression, and dance as a proper art.
It was precisely in ancient Greece where dance began to be considered as an art, which was endowed with a muse: Terpsichore. At that time, dance had a popular and, at the same time, artistic connotation. It was introduced for the first time to theater in genres such as comedy and tragedy.
It is even said that the philosopher Socrates was a gifted dancer
On the other hand, in ancient Rome, there are records of the hymen dance or “nuptial dance”, a dance that demonstrated the happiness generated by marriage. Even in the first churches during the Roman Empire, there was a separate space at the altar dedicated to dances.
Dance in the Middle Ages
The history of dance in the Middle Ages did not really enjoy great evolution from an artistic perspective, as it was considered a pagan rite and the Church was responsible for marginalizing it from the rest of the arts.
Although it did begin to appear numerous folk dances, as is the case of the pasacalle, the carol, the tarantella, the Moorish dances, among many others.
History of dance from the Renaissance to the present day
The evolution of dance through time has a very significant turning point after the Middle Ages. The real revitalization of the history of dance would come in the Renaissance, since in this period man again became more important than religion.
Thus, the history of dance was developing along with the history of music. But let’s see in more detail the evolution of dance during this period.
The history of dance in the Renaissance developed unevenly. Above all, there are records of its development in France, where the ballet-comique emerged: danced representations of classical myths.
Thanks to the promotion of this dance by Queen Catherine de Medici, the first ballet appeared: Ballet comique de la Reine Louise, in 1581, created by Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx.
Other popular dances also appeared and were compiled by Thoinot Arbeau in his book Orchesographie, published in 1588.
In the Baroque period, the history of dance continued to evolve mostly in France, where the ballet de cour allowed the development of instrumental music to be better adapted to dance.
Louis XIV took it upon himself to turn dance into a great spectacle and even created the Royal Academy of Dance, in 1661. The main academic dances that emerged at that time were the following: polonaise, minuet, gigue, gavotte, passepied, rigaudon, etc.
It is important to note that in Spain also began to develop several popular or social dances, such as the seguidilla, the chacona or the fandango.
Although romantic dance was characterized by a taste for folk dances, the history of classical dance was the one that had the greatest evolution: from the characteristic costume of the ballet, the tutu, to the music purely composed for the ballet.
The tutu first appeared in Robert le Diable’s Ballet des Nuns in 1831. While the first music exclusively composed for ballet to stand out was Coppélia, in 1870.
During this period, the choreographer Carlo Blasis rose as the father of modern ballet, as he summarized all the technical aspects of the dance in his book The Code of Terpsichore.
In addition, in the mid-19th century, the center of dance creation and innovation shifted from Paris to St. Petersburg, where Russian ballet would become a leader with respect to the expressions of this art in the following centuries.
The history of dance at the end of the 19th century is considered as contemporary. The history of contemporary dance begins again with the leadership of the Russian ballet.
Thus, this not only develops with respect to THE technique, but it is also introduced in the artistic currents of the avant-garde. Ballets such as “Firebird”, “The Rite of Spring” and “Prince Igor” stand out.
However, after World War II, two schools that have defined aesthetics and styles stood out: The American School, with creators and dancers like Ana Sokolow, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taulor, Louis Horst, among others; and the European School, with creators like Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, Vera Skonel, or Los Sajarov.
Meanwhile, at the popular level, modern ballroom dancing had three key moments that have placed them in their current status:
Explosion of new dances thanks to a wave of popular music such as jazz.
Dancers Vernon and Irene Castle taught and published a series of standard dances so that popular dance flourished as a social expression.
The cinematic pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1920s influenced countless forms of social dance in North America and Europe. Their sequences and performances were much more than fluid movements and poses for photography, as each choreography was meticulously staged and rehearsed.
Today, the history of dance features new dances that are evolving along with the other related arts. To mention a few, there is funky, bachata, zumba, electrodance and many more.
In the words of Professor Anahí de Cárdenas, who teaches the Acting Course: Characters and Body Expression:
“The most powerful tool of an actor and a dancer is their own body. For these individuals, it becomes necessary to train body and mind. Keeping the body in motion helps to keep the creative capacity at its peak.”