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History of dance

(historydance,history dance)

The history of dance maybe as long as the history of mankind . We can only guess how dances looked like inearlier epochs.

An early manuscript describing dance is the Natya Shastra on which themodern interpritation classical Indian dance (e.g. Bharathanatyam) is based.

In European culture, one of the earliest records of dancing is by Homer , whose" Iliad "; describes chorea (khoreia).

The early Greeks made the art of dancing into a system, expressive of all thedifferent passions. For example, the dance of the Furies , so represented, would createcomplete terror among those who witnessed them. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle ,ranked dancing with poetry , and said that certain dancers, with rhythm applied togesture, could express manners, passions, and actions. The most eminent Greek sculptors studied the attitude of the dancers fortheir art of imitating the passions

Table of contents
2 16th and 17th centuries: court dance
3 18th and 19th centuries: from courtdancing to Romanticism
4 Early 20th century: from ballet tocontemporary dance
5 Late 20th century: growth of contemporarydance

Pre-history of dance

Throughout history, people have danced as part of religious rituals and social celebrations. It is traceable through manyprehistoric documents. Court dancing has existed perhaps as long as there have been kings and queens. A brief outline mightinclude folk, social, ballroom, religious, and experimental dance forms. One major branch of dance is Theatrical Dance as it hasevolved in the Western World. However the dance that we can reconize and know now is ballet, which fist revolved in therenaissance of the 1500s in France.

16th and 17th centuries: court dance

Ballet rose out of the new philosophies and modes of thought which were the basis of the Enlightenment , namely, that man was the focal point of the universe and could control his existencethrough the arts and sciences. ‘By using music that imitated exactly the proportions of the harmony of the spheres,sixteenth century man believed he could attract planetary influences. Dance in itself was an imitation of the movement of theheavens.’ (Designing for the Dancer, Elron Press, London, 1981)

It was during the late 1500s that the court ballet came into its own as a movement art, funded entirely by the French monarchyfor the purpose of extolling its own greatness. The ballets took place as a part of the magnificences, huge celebratoryextravaganzas lasting several days and including all kinds of entertainment, that were basically exercises in self-exaltation bythe French Court.

18th and 19th centuries: from court dancing to Romanticism

By the 1700s ballet had migrated from the French court to the Paris Opera ,and the director Lully ‘preserved the ballet ducour’s basic concept of a composite form, in which the dance was an essential and important element.’ ibid. Duringthis century the ballet was to develop throughout Europe, from a courtly arrangement of moving images used as part of a largerspectacle, to a performance art in its own right, the ballet d’action . This new form swept away much of the artificialityof the court dance and strove towards ‘the concept that art should aspire to imitate nature’. This ultimatelyresulted in costuming and choreography that was much more liberating to the dancer, and conducive to a fuller use of theexpressive capacity of the body. It also opened the door to pointe-work , for this acceptance of more naturalistic costuming allowed the development of the heel-lessshoe, which led to the dancer being able to make more use of the rise onto demi-pointe.

The era of Romanticism in the early 1800s, with ballets that focussed moreon the emotions, the fantasy and the spiritual worlds, heralded the beginning of true pointe-work. Now, on her toes, the deifiedballerina (embodied in this period by the legendary ballerina MarieTaglioni ) seemed to magically skim the surface of the stage, an ethereal being never quite touching the ground. It was duringthis period that the ascending star of the ballerina quite eclipsed the presence of the poor male dancer, who was in many casesreduced to the status of a moving statue, present only in order to lift the ballerina. This sad state was really only redressedby the rise of the male ballet star Nijinsky , with the Ballets Russes , in the early twentieth century. Ballet as we know it had welland truly evolved by this time, with all the familiar conventions of costume, choreographic form, plot, pomp, and circumstancefirmly fixed in place.

Early 20th century: from ballet to contemporary dance

Since the Ballets Russes began revolutionising ballet in the early 20th century, there have been continued attempts to breakthe mould of classical ballet. Currently the artistic scope of ballet technique (and its accompanying music, dcor, and multimedia ) is more all-encompassing than ever. The boundaries that classify a work ofclassical ballet are constantly being stretched, muddied and blurred until perhaps all that remains today are traces of techniqueidioms such as ’turn-out’.

It was during the explosion of new thinking and exploration in the early 20th century that dance artists began to appreciatethe qualities of the individual, the necessities of ritual and religion, the primitive, the expressive and the emotional. In thisatmosphere modern dance began an explosion of growth. There was suddenly a new freedom in what was considered acceptable, whatwas considered art, and what people wanted to create. All kinds of other things were suddenly valued as much as, or beyond, thecostumes and tricks of the ballet.

Most of the early 20th century modern choreographers and dancers sawballet in the most negative light. Isadora Duncan thought it most ugly,nothing more than meaningless gymnastics. Martha Graham saw it asEuropean and Imperialistic, having nothing to do with the modern American people. Merce Cunningham , while using some of the foundations of the ballet technique in his teaching, approachedchoreography and performance from a totally radical standpoint compared to the traditional balletic format.

The twentieth century was indeed a period of breaking away from everything that ballet stood for. It was a time ofunprecedented creative growth, for dancers and choreographers. It was also a time of shock, surprise and broadening of minds forthe public, in terms of their definitions of what dance was. It was a revolution in the truest sense.

Late 20th century: growth of contemporary dance

After the explosion of modern dance in the early 20th century, the 1960s saw the growth of post modernism. Post modernismveered towards simplicity, the beauty of small things, the beauty of untrained bodies, and unsophisticated movement. The famous‘No’ manifesto rejecting all costumes, stories and outer trappings in favour of raw and unpolished movement wasperhaps the extreme of this wave of thinking. Unfortunately lack of costumes, stories and outer trappings do not a good danceshow make, and it was not long before sets, dcor and shock value re-entered the vocabulary of modern choreographers.

By the 1980s dance had come full circle and modern dance (or, by this time, ‘ contemporary dance ') was clearly still a highly technical and political vehicle for many practitioners.Existing alongside classical ballet, the two art-forms were by now living peacefully next door to one another with little of therivalry and antipathy of previous eras. The present time sees us still in the very competitive artistic atmosphere wherechoreographers compete to produce the most shocking work, however, there are still glimpses of beauty to be had, and muchincredible dancing in an age where dance technique has progressed further in expertise, strength and flexibility than ever beforein history.

For the emergence of 20th century modern dance see also: Mary Wigman , Gret Palucca , Harald Kreutzberg and Yvonne Georgi .

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