What is the origin of dancing

Dance development from prehistory to modern times

"I love dance because it frees people from the heaviness of all things."


1 Introduction

There is no such thing as a “history of dance”, rather each culture has had its own dances with its own backgrounds and cults over the years. What is certain, however, is that dance, as a form of expression of the human body, has occupied and stimulated people at every stage of development. The following is an outline of the development of dance from the Stone Age to the dawn of the 21st century. Here, however, one cannot insist on completeness or one hundred percent accuracy, since dance history can only be written backwards and often out of speculation. Many “important” dance styles may not be mentioned at all because they contradict the chronology or logic of the text. However, this should not be a contradiction in terms of entering the story of an extremely exciting form of body language and expression.

2. Prehistory and dance

The Stone Age, which began as early as 35,000 years before Christ, shows through various cave paintings that the body language called dance was already important back then. Images from French and Spanish caves often show magicians and magicians disguised as animals, who cast a spell on animals with their rhythmic movements. This was hoped for great hunting success, which at that time was absolutely essential for survival. Initiation rites in Neolithic society were also often combined with dances. Dance was therefore magical, cultic and mysterious at the same time, a special event that was always performed in the cave's secret.

3. Dance in the three high cultures Egypt, Greece and Rome

In the Egyptian high culture, dance was also of great importance, there was even a patron saint: the sky goddess Hathor was responsible for dance and intoxication. There was dancing at happy political events, military successes, royal coronations and sacrificial ceremonies. In contrast to the Stone Age, dance was now a very obvious joy and emotion that let people communicate.

The dance was also of great importance in the Egyptian cult of the dead. Pyramid paintings for dead pharaohs almost always showed people dancing; even at the death ceremonies there were always dancers. Again, the dance should bring joy to people and reduce grief.

Incidentally, the Egyptians began with dance choreographies, i.e. they laid down strict dance routines. In order not to captivate spontaneity and creativity, there were four different names for the dance in ancient Egypt: slow dance, acrobatic jumping dance and syncopated dance, which was danced by Nubians and negroes. The fourth expression was mentioned in relation to the gods and was to be equated with acting.

In ancient Greece the muses - that is, daughters of the gods - were responsible for the dance; the "departments" of music, dance and poetry were divided among the three beauties. Everything the body did to express something was considered a dance, provided it followed an order, a rhythm.

According to this definition, gymnastics, processions in honor of the gods or military training also fell under the term dance. Music became more and more important for the act of dancing and solo parts of individual dancers were also introduced in theatrical performances. Dance was "one of the values ​​from which man draws experiences, both for his relationship to the world of gods and in his relationship to the reality of social life"[1]

Early Roman culture linked its gods to the importance of dance. It was only when the Rome founder Romulus danced the "bellicepra" with the god of nature Mars - a jumping dance that was danced with weapons - Mars transformed into a true god of war. In addition, Romulus' dancing this "bellicepra" was luck and a blessing for Rome.

The second important Roman dance was also religious in nature; it was danced by priests every year at the beginning and end of the campaigns.

Nevertheless, the main features of dance in Rome were not only viewed positively. Greek schools where young Romans were taught to dance were closed because dancing would "encourage a general effervescence"[2]It was only Emperor Augustus that brought Rome to a change of heart and thus to a change in the meaning of dance.

4. The Middle Ages

At the beginning of the European Middle Ages (4th - 15th centuries AD), the previously prosperous cities of the Roman Empire became impoverished. Large urban escapes led to a stagnation in dance development, as there was no longer an audience for large performances in the cities. The dance culture held so high was slowly but surely forgotten. But with knightly and courtly poetry, the history of the arts took a different direction. She soon arrived in Germany from northern France: Troubadours, dancers and jugglers roamed the country to entertain the people with their stories, their music and, of course, their dance.

The Church viewed all these arts with suspicion, and in 465 the dance was condemned by the then Pope Zacharias, who "played the indecent movements of dance and dance"[3]ban. However, this meant that the more moral dances were not affected by this ban.

In 1209, the Council of Avignon finally banned the performances of paid dancers. However, the believers were allowed to celebrate dancing themselves with a papal blessing. Incidentally, there was also dancing in the liturgy of the Catholic Church, such as the “tripendium” of the clergy, accompanied by Latin chants.

The dances allowed by lay people were mainly round dances, the "Carolen", which also influenced the musical forms of the Middle Ages; Terms such as “Rondeau” or “Ballade” are still well known in the 21st century.

These round or round dances were popular with all strata of the population: farmers and craftsmen as well as the aristocracy of the society of that time gladly accepted dance as a social event.

With minstrels and choir dances, more and more text crept into the dance music. In Italy this was most impressive with the discovery of opera.

5. The beginning of the modern age and new developments

The Middle Ages gradually ended in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the history of dance also took on new directions. The origin of the more recent developments was to be found in the princely houses, where art was now also found in addition to weapons and money for the representation of power and self-celebration. All major festivities were now celebrated with dozens of dancers, and the profession of court professional dancer was born. The dancers on princely stages were supposed to represent serious works of art and thus became more and more technical and imaginative. The gentlemen, on the other hand, devoted themselves more to the slow dances: majestic step dances were also to be mastered for the ladies with excessive, heavy clothes and unwieldy shoes. The common people, incidentally, still skipped and jumped around vulgarly and unrestrainedly at their dances.

In the case of the noble addresses, “dance masters” received this difference, “Cavaliero Domenico da Piacenza” (he was employed by a northern Italian aristocrat) then took the step and wrote down certain step sequences of dances in writing for the first time. The noblesse had now fixed what the aristocratic dance should look like, while at the same time the dances of the mob were set apart more and more clearly. In 1455, "Cornazano", a student of de Piacenzas, officially differentiated and split off ballet, which, as is well known, has not lost its appeal to this day.

Ballet can therefore justifiably claim to have survived 500 years of the most varied of history.

6. Don´t mock baroque!

There was also dancing in the baroque period. On February 23, 1653, the French monarch Louis XIV danced in the “royal ballet of the night” as a star that illuminates the earth through his power. Then he received the world-famous title "Sun King".

The nobility danced the minuet in the palaces and castles. The festive step dance in ¾ time was the first fashion dance in history and popular well into the 18th century.

But the minuet was an artifact by dance masters in Versailles, no longer a reflection of a society and its needs. In the Baroque age, dance was more commercialized and purely scientifically developed and perfected.

7. 1,2,3 in a waltz step

While the minuet had become the dance par excellence in courtly culture, the waltz developed among the people from medieval “länders”. At first the term “German dance” was common, until the Austrian court replaced the minuet with the waltz and “Viennese waltz” became the common expression. In addition, the waltz was so popular in Vienna because carnival events had been banned in the Reich and so dance balls were the only pleasure for the court. Emperor Joseph II finally allowed his subjects to roll across the dance floor in the dance halls across all social classes (the term comes from the expression “to be on the waltz” of the traveling companions. The 18th century brought the second meaning “to turn “For rolling and this is how the term for the rotating dance was found).

The waltz was almost revolutionary, as man and woman touched each other very intimately in this dance and drew their rounds in intimate proximity across the parquet. In 1791 even the authorities in the waltz-dancing countries set an example and forbade the "unhealthy dance".

But the dance was not to be gotten dead; At the beginning of the 20th century, the waltz was the most popular of all ballroom dances without any competition.

Hardly changed for a hundred years, it now represented the common image of society between the leading man and the led woman. In addition, the fixed sequence of movements corresponded exactly to the moral ideas of the time.

In the course of the 20th century the waltz became too tame and too rigid for people, which is why it was replaced by the Boston in the first decade.

8. A new century and the course of fashion dances

In the 20th century, so-called “fashion dances” developed, which made the population shake off the dance floor for a certain period of time.

The end of the First World War brought a wave of foxtrots from America to Germany in 1918. A dance without a prescribed sequence of steps attracted motivated dance couples to exotic dance experiments. In 1922-1929, however, the “General Association of Dance Teachers” tinkered with fixed, uniform choreographies for the couple dances, which took both the fashion and the dance freaks away from the Foxtrot.

As a result, the "Jazz Dances" from America made on the advance. These were the Afro-American dances that also caused a sensation on the other side of the oceans. After a short phase of "shimmy" ("shimmy means strong sexual excitement and intercourse" in slang) with erotic shaking movements by both dancers, the Charleston made the youth dance. In 1923 he came to the rest of the world through the Broadway musical "Running Wild". A dance description from 1925 reveals: "The torso trembles, plus the movements of the hips, thighs and buttocks. The hands are also active, they touch all parts of the body as if in ecstasy. In addition, there are the alternating knock knees and bow legs connected with it the knees and feet turned outwards and inwards. The dancer can bend his back or even crouch. "[4]

The Great Depression in 1929 put an end to the fashionable Charleston and also the episodic “Black Bottom”.

In particular, however, the NSDAP opposed German dance history after its “seizure of power”; it wanted to prevent foreign fashion dances and Germans to return more to traditional folk and social dances. She succeeded in doing this until "swing" found its way into German dance establishments in the mid-30s. Swing was youthful, lively, and modern; the dancers whirled around their hips and arms and lifted each other into the air. The opposite pole to the drill of the dictatorship became in the course of the "cessation of the official entertainment business"[5]Banned in 1944.

9. The "King" and his music

In 1945 the war ended, and as the cities and structures were rebuilt, new developments in dance began. The prewar swing was now called Jive; At the same time, "Rock'n Roll" developed. "The King" Elvis Presley was and is probably the best known representative of this style of music. The hips were swung diligently, on American television Elvis was only allowed to be filmed from the navel upwards in order to "avoid any derailments"[6]Jumps and many partner figures were also used in rock'n roll, and dance was not only fun, but also a real sport ... .. combined with the wicked and forbidden shot of sex in 1950s society.

10. The twist revolution and its consequences

All the fashion dances, as avant-garde and modern as they may have been, were always couple dances. Man with woman, woman with man, plus more or less fixed choreographies; that was the dance of prehistory up to the 1960s.

But in 1960-1962 the new wave also reached Germany - Chubby Checker came and danced “Twist”. At the Twist, for the first time in history, everyone danced for himself; the dance became an absolute long-runner and captivated the world across generations.

When the Beatles slowly but surely came to their breakthrough, individual dancing was already communal. The dance floor was freely accessible; Breaks and wild solo dances were possible all at once.

In 1977, the film "Saturday Night Fever", which immortalized John Travolta, brought about the spread of the discos. Dancing was no longer a big social event, it was fun, sport and individual expression for each generation.

11. Conclusion and conclusion

In 35,000 years of human history, dance and movement in rhythm kept people busy. Many dances have been forgotten in the course of time, others are coming back into fashion. Dance sport has become a topic and is assessed and regulated at world championships. In some parts of the world initiation dances and evocations of the gods are still danced. Ballet performances still attract thousands of visitors to the world of tutus while the youth move to new techno beats. Musicals combine dance with song and theater while Arab dervishes dance with swords. The world has become multicultural and there is nothing that does not exist. At the very end I would like to resume the aphorism from the beginning of the work and give Augustine the floor:

Praise the dance

I praise the dance
because he frees man
of the severity of things;
binds the isolated
to community.

I praise the dance
who demands and promotes everything:
Health and clear mind
and a lively soul.
Dance is transformation
of space, time, of people,
who is constantly in danger
to fall apart, all brains,
To become will or feeling.

The dance, on the other hand, demands
the whole person,
who is anchored in its center,
who is not obsessed
of desirability
after people and things
and from the demony
the abandonment in one's own self.

The dance demands
the liberated, the vibrating man
in the equilibrium of all forces.
I praise the dance!

- Man, learn to dance,
otherwise the angels know
in heaven with you
nothing to do!

12. Sources and references


1. Ian Driver “From Waltz to HipHop”, Henschel Verlag, 2001

2. Giovanni Calendoli: "Dance: Cult-Rhythm Art", Westermann 1986

3. “See-wonder-knowledge” dance: From the magic of classical ballet to fiery flamenco dances from all over the world, Verlag Gerstenberg, 1991


1. www.tanzlust.de (as of January 9, 2003)

2. home.t-online.de/home/the-20-2-40-style-syndicate/tanz.htm (as of January 6, 2003)

3. tanz.or.at/mode1900.shtml


[1]Giovanni Calendoli: "Dance: Cult-Rhythm Art", p.26, Westermann 1986

[2]Giovanni Calendoli: "Dance: Cult-Rhythm Art", p.43

[3]see above p. 68/69

[4]http://home.t-online.de/home/the-20-2-40-style-syndicate/tanz.htm (as of January 6, 2003)


[6]Ian Driver "From Waltz to HipHop", Verlag Henschel, 2001

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