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Learn The History Of Dance

Feb 11, 2008
Down through the mist of ages the art of dancing comes weaving its graceful way to us, its cadence burdened with race-old emotions, now pagan, now religious, romantic, tribal, martial. For it is an art that has touched life at many points. In song, in story, in Holy Writ you will find it; you may find it between the lines of a doctor's prescription.

The story of dancing really begins for us in the gold and ivory days of Ancient Greece - the golden age of dancing.

It is not a far cry to say that the Greeks have dictated, with almost supreme authority, the elements of logic and a large measure of the thought-matter of every subsequent age and great race of men.

The Greek is the genius of the beautiful. He conceives and qualifies the ideality of man and nature with a marvelous vividness, and his inspiration begins and ends in the enthusiasm and love of movement in the living form. A thought of Greece is a thought of the epics of life, motion, and rhythm.

It is this movement that he lived, he knew, he felt, that he has idealized and made sacred to himself and to us. It is his religion, whose inner concept flashes forth with unsurpassed form in everything he has left to posterity. In all his arts he makes us conscious of this love of movement and rhythm.

We feel it in the graceful lines of a vase, it is the motif of the designed figures thereon; we see it in the poise of his sculpture; we hear it in the paeans to the Gods and heroes - always life and motion; the instinctive exclamation of feeling made graphic; a gesture that becomes prose.

To his philosophy it seemed imperative that he strive to attain perfection in his own body, as well as in his arts; for the young man to be proficient in his sports was not enough, he must strive to attain the ideal that his mind beholds, and throughout his labors and diversions this idea is in the ascendant.

The Greek gymnasia, of which there were many, advocated the scientific exertions of the body, and these exertions were rarely, if ever, artificial. The dance was in great favor with them, as it offered so much to their temperament and purpose, and it became one of the essential courses of training.

The Greeks ranked the dance with music and poetry; as a Greek expression has it, music and dancing were "the married pair" - a happily married pair evidently - for the Greeks were a cheerful people, whose sense of dignity was not disturbed with their dancing, as it was, for example, in the case of the Romans and Orientals, who bade their hired slaves do their dancing for them - and as long as their morality remained unshaken their dances retained their purity.

From Greek sculpture we get most of the history of the Greek dances. The Bracelet, The Bacchanalia, The Hymenaea, The Labyrinth, The Pyrrhic, these are but a few of the many. The Pyrrhic dance shows, in an excellent way, the twofold purpose of the Greeks. It was a warlike dance, which consisted chiefly in such adroit and supple turning of the body as represented an attempt to avoid the strokes of a foe in battle, and the motions gone through were considered a form of training for war.

As far as we may go into antiquity, every dance, whether belonging to civilized or savage nations, was accompanied by some music or rhythm of a sort, even though it was but the beating of a drum, the clacking of shells, or the clapping of hands.

At the very earliest times, people seemed to have chanted and danced at the one time; afterward the custom was for some to dance while others sang, until eventually the invention of musical instruments took the place of the voice and musical accompaniment became an established thing.

Dance is always a joy, and the story of its development enhances its magic still further.
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