Dancing is poetry for the feet – John Dryden

Who really knows the origins of classical dance or contemporary dance?

To study the history of this artistic discipline and prepare for formal dance competition – say, to audition for entrance to a dance company, you must know of the origins and evolution of dance.

In addition to being useful for your studies as a dancer, having dance history in the curriculum at your dance school can enrich your personal culture and give a better understanding of the evolution of each genre of dance.

Leap with us now, into the constantly evolving art form we call dance!

Dancing at the Dawn of Time

Primitive cave art reflects what was important in early human life
This primitive human cave drawing depicts a successful hunt; surely a dance followed! Source; Wikipedia Credit: Bernard Gagnon

If the art of dance is so pleasing to us, it is surely because dance as an art is rooted within us.

The existence of dance goes back to prehistoric times. In European, African and Asian caves, there are drawings depicting the first humans practising this art.

One of the best-known examples is that of the dancing sorcerer in the French department of Ariège, within the Cave of Trois Frères.

Archaeologists have further uncovered tombs adorned with drawings of dancers in Egypt, and similar depictions in the rock shelters of Bhimetka in India; those inspirational portrayals being over 30,000 years old.

These cave paintings are particularly valuable for art historians. However, because the depicted dance is composed of abstract movements, it is a complex science to tease out its precise meaning.

Dance is considered essential to the evolution of civilisation.

Since the first humans had not yet crafted language, it was through their body's movement that they communicated.

Tribes developed a system of motion – a dance, to recognize their members. Any human not knowing the routine would be greeted less cordially.

Around 4000 BCE, we find evidence of early dancing technique.

Humans developed religious dances by incorporating moves such as the splits, ensemble dancing and twirling.

Those dancers evidenced symmetry of movement and rudimentary choreographic design: dance trends became graceful and harmonious.

The art of dance is not to be trivialised: it is, in fact, one of the most ancient arts, without which our ancestors would have had much trouble communicating.

Dance music did not yet exist; still, people danced! Makes you wonder what beats they danced to, and if there was any form of singing...

Take adult dance classes here.

Dancing in Antiquity

It is indeed during this period that the activity we call dance gained traction.

At the peak of the Pharaohs' Egypt, drawing techniques improved, allowing today's researchers to learn more about trending dances of those times.

Egyptian dancers demonstrated great flexibility and equilibrium. Depictions show dancers balancing on one leg, with the other outflung, and arms thrust before them.

Although dance was important in ancient Egypt – for rituals, fitness or entertainment, it was in Greece that dance styles seem to have diversified, in choreography and in purpose.

Dance innovation in Greek civilization included:

  • religious dances
  • dramatic dances
  • lyrical dances
  • other special dances

In that epoch, dancing was seen as a means of communication between mortals and immortals.

The Greek people danced in celebration of the god Dionysus, although dancing featured in other rituals, as well.

In his work Saltatione, Syrian satirist Lucian of Samosata explains the importance of dance:

Those who spoke with veracity of dance's origins claim that it was born at the very time of creation of all things, and that it is as old as love, the oldest of the gods.

Dance fulfilled several functions in ancient times, among them:

  • a method of communicating and creating bonds during social interaction
  • a way of praying to a god during official ceremonies and religious rituals
  • an appeal to heal a wound; those were especially macabre dances!
  • a means of expressing feelings about the opposite sex or family

There were slow, serious dances that conveyed a tragic feeling. Others were more frenzied, meant to express a satirical feeling. Finally, there were lively and energetic dances to mirror the joy of the dancers.

Men, women and children did not always engage in the same dance styles.

Dance was above all a means of distinguishing social classes: gender, age and one's country of origin.

Do you see now, that to become professional dancers, we will have to delve into some textbooks to learn the history of this art?

Discover also our street dance classes in London...

You might catch a medieval dance at a renaissance fair!
Medieval dances are most viewed at Renaissance Fairs! Source: Pixabay Credit: Mitokauno

Dancing in the Middle Ages

You may contend that people didn't do much to promote dance in that dark period of human history, long before anything like Zumba or jazz dance was taught.

The Christian church of the time saw dance in any form as an unscrupulous activity.

To avoid scrutiny, avid dancers of all ages took to practising their dance moves at night, seemingly in protest of strict religion.

Nocturnal dancing gave rise to debauchery – naturally condemned by the Church, which attempted to simply forbid any dance performance, without ever wholly succeeding in suppressing it.

That really shows how the need for dance ties into the human psyche, doesn't it?

Teasing out an understanding of dance during medieval times is particularly difficult.

During that era, only the most erudite, nobility and the clergy, knew how to read and write.

Thus there are few records of any dance steps from the Middle Ages since nobility generally heeded the Church's instructions.

Folk dancing, on the other hand, lets commoners' passion flow: they believed in celebrating life to lyrical repertory!

By the by, through pressure from the Church, religious dances began to fade away... only to give way to new forms of dance artistry!

From the sixth century on, the French invented playful styles of dance, with steps intricately choreographed for dancing groups, around the singer.

That is a bit of trivia to know about dance, should you aspire to one day become a renowned dancer!

Dance and music were treated as two inseparable artistic disciplines: people repeated the songs' chorus while dancing around him.

The most popular dances of the medieval era were:

  • The Carol
  • The Tresque
  • The Estampie
  • The Ductia
  • The Saltarelle

Even in our very modern 21st century, when all manner of hip-hop and Gangnam Style prevail, it is quite possible to learn how to dance medieval dances!

In dance class, at any dance studio; during private lessons or any venue that provides dance education: you can find an instructor keen for introducing medieval dances.

For an introduction to medieval dance, it is not necessary to be a professional dancer or join a master class... In fact, you can find medieval dance practised at most any dance festival.

Such a dance routine is taught in a convivial atmosphere, be you more eager for couples dances or a dance class for children and teenagers.

Lessons in medieval dance allow us to revisit its acrobatics and to retain primitive choreography, all while encouraging discovery of the rich history of dance that our country is proud to have.

Some dance quotes may boost your confidence and inspire you to discover your rhythm.

Why not ask your dance teacher where you can learn to dance the Carol?

Can you dip your partner that deeply?
Debut your couples' dance at the next dance party! Source: Pixabay Credit: Alexey_Markov

The Art of Dance in the Modern Era

The 18th Century brought us a style of dance that we all know very well, still today: the ballet.

Classical dance was particularly popular in France and Italy. Jean-Baptiste Lully contributed to this popularity thanks to his musical compositions, which he performed both for the King but also at the Paris National Opera.

Thanks to the enthusiasm provoked by these well-rounded yet unpolished performances, the so-called Ballet d'action became a means of communicating subtle messages outside of the current political regime.

A ballerina could thus make a political statement without risking her head!

Performers often donned masks in order to draw the audience's attention to the dancers' bodies; in other words, the moves were the meaning.

Dancers ' costumes helped the artists to feel freer, a feeling shared by beginner dancers today.

Shoes and costumes helped to accentuate the fluidity of the body, giving poise and precision to movement.

It was during this era that the famous demi pointe was born.

During this epoch, the classical ballerina represented the epitome of French dance culture, sometimes at the expense of male dancers, who seldom received any level of recognition!

One such talented figure was Marie Taglioni who, at one point during her illustrious career, taught social dance in London!

At the same time, in France, some dancers engaged in what was called danses savantes, consisting of measured and complex choreographies.

The visual artist had to show intelligence and a concentration to be able to execute the movements to perfection, all to a fast tempo!

At that time, such scholarly dances were reserved for the elite. Today, they are accessible to all, through qualified instruction with the best choreographers.

You could also acquaint yourself with them at any of our numerous festivals, held in honour of such dances!

Participating could be your chance to learn to dance like royalty!

Discover also our dance courses Birmingham, should you live in the centre of our island...

Discover our different online dance classes here!

Dancing can illustrate joy or sorrow
You too can celebrate the joy of living through dance! Source: Pixabay Credit: Clicker-Free-Vector-Images

Modern Dancing in the Current Era

Have you seen comedian Judson Laipply in his hilarious evolution of dance video series? It is one of the most watched viral video series on Youtube!

That series parodies the most popular American dances of all time such as the Robot, the Twist, Thriller, and the Touchdown dance.

It was during the 20th century that dance began to evolve into the new dance that is commonly practiced today.

Aspiring to move away from the aristocratic reputation of classical ballet and the limiting "intellectual" dances, more than one choreographer helped popularize modern dance as well as modern jazz (now one of the most studied in dance studios across the country).

While classical dance was rather considered a variation of gymnastics in groups, modern dance puts emphasis on the individual dancer.

Since the 20th century, dance schools have been teaching much more varied styles:

  • Tap dance
  • Sports dance classes (stretching courses, online Zumba courses, ground barre courses...),
  • Argentine Tango
  • Salsa
  • Hip-hop and jazz hip hop
  • Cha Cha
  • Swing and East Coast Swing
  • Flamenco
  • Bachata
  • Oriental Dances
  • Ragga Dancehall
  • Ballroom Dancing

Naturally, you can still take ballet classes or dance the Macarena!

After the Second World War, in an effusive liberation of spirit and movement, contemporary dance took centre stage... and hasn't left yet!

Its fusion of different styles, incorporating elements of jazz with ballet technique, learned in intensive dance training, contemporary dance plays on rhythmic changes and improvisation.

The contemporary dancer seeks above all to express independence, diversity and creativity through varying tempos; a repertoire demanding focused dance training, and great technique.

Youtubers thrilled to see Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith on stage, dancing a look back over hip hop's evolution! In another instalment, First Lady Michelle Obama joins the Tonight Show for a medley of 'mom dances'...

Dance clubs, dance schools and workshops for dance and music offer contemporary dance lessons for all ages and levels, beginners through intermediate and advanced.

Discover also the most mythical dance films or our competitive Pilates courses...

Hundreds of Superprof dance instructors offer lessons ranging from ballet training to any other style of dance at attractive prices: Why not get started?

Search the web for 'dance classes london' or whichever city you live in now!

And then, head to youtube for move viral videos on dance specialities!

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.