1902 Encyclopedia > Dance


DANCE. The term dancing in its widest sense includes three-things :—(1) the spontaneous activity of the muscles under -the influence of some strong emotion, such as social joy or religious exultation; (2) definite combinations of graceful movements performed for the sake of the pleasure which the exercise affords to the dancer or to the spectator; (3) carefully trained movements which are meant by the dancer vividly to represent the actions and passions of other people. In the highest sense it seems to be for prose-gesture what song is for the instinctive exclamations of feeling. Pantomime in the emphatic form of dancing scarcely exists in this century, but it has had an important history. Regarded as the outlet or expression of strong feeling, dancing does not require much discussion, for the general rule applies that such demonstrations for a time at least sustain and do not exhaust the flow of feeling. The voice and the facial muscles and many of the organs are affected at the same time, and the result is a high state of vitality which among the spinning Dervishes or in the ecstatic worship of Bacchus and Cybele amounted to something like madness. Even here there is traceable an undulatory movement which, as Mr Spencer says, is " habitually generated by feeling in its bodily discharge." But it is only in the advanced or volitional stage of dancing that we find developed the essential feature of measure, which has been said to consist in " the alternation of stronger muscular contractions with weaker ones," an alternation which, except in the cases of savages and children, " is compounded with longer rises and falls in the degree of muscular excitement." In analyz-ing the state of mind which this measured dancing pro-duces, we must first of all allow for the pleasant glow of excitement caused by the excess of blocd sent to the brain. But apart from this, there is an agreeable sense of uniformity in the succession of muscular efforts, and in the spaces described, and also in the period of their recurrence. If the steps of dancing and the intervals of time be not precisely equal, there is still a pleasure depending on the gradually increasing intensity of motion, on the undulation which uniformly rises in order to fall. As Florizel says to Perdita, " When you do dance, I wish you a wave of the sea" (Winter's Tale, iv. 3). The mind feels the beauty of emphasis and cadence in muscular motion, just as much as in musical notes. Then, the figure of the dance is frequently a circle or some more graceful curve or series of curves,—a fact which satisfies the dancer as well as the eye of the spectator. But all such effects are intensified by the use of music, which not only brings a perfectly distinct set of pleasurable sensations to dancer and spectator, but
by the control of dancing produces an inexpressibly sweet harmony of sound and motion. This harmony is further enriched if there be two dancing together on one plan, or a large company of dancers executing certain evolutions, the success of which depends on the separate harmonies of all the couples. The fundamental condition is that through-out the dance all the dancers keep within their bases of gravity. This is not only required for the dancers' own enjoyment, but, as in the famous Mercury on tiptoe, it is essential to the beautiful effect for the spectator. The idea of much being safely supported by little is what proves attractive in the modern posturing ballet. But this is merely one condition of graceful dancing, and if it be made the chief object, the dancer sinks into the acrobat. These psychological principles have still to be applied to the phenomena presented by the dances of different nations. (See Read's Characteristic National Dances, 1853).

We shall first consider the varieties of dance which without any apparent mimetic object seem to be suggested by the mere pleasure of movement felt by the performer or by the spectator. In Tigré the Abyssinians dance the chassée step in a circle, and keep time by shrugging their shoulders and working their elbows backwards and forwards. At intervals the dancers squat on the ground, still moving the arms and shoulders in the same way. The Bushmen dance in their low-roofed rooms supporting themselves by sticks ; one foot remains motionless, the other dances in a wild irregular manner, while the hands are occupied with the sticks. The Gonds, a hill-tribe of Hindustan, dance generally in pairs, with a shuffling step, the eyes on the ground, the arms close to the body, and the elbows at an angle with the closed hand. Advancing to a point, the dancer suddenly erects his head, and wheels round to the starting point. The women of the Pultooah tribe dance in a circle, moving backwards and forwards in a bent posture. The Santal women, again, are slow and graceful in dance ; joining hands, they form themselves into the arc of a circle, towards the centre of which they advance and then retire, moving at the same time slightly towards the right, so as to complete the circle in an hour. The Kukis of Assam have only the rudest possible step, an awkward hop with the knees very much bent. The national dance of the Kamchadale is one of the most violent known, every muscle apparently quivering at every moment. But there, and in some other cases where men and women dance together, there is a trace of deliberate obscenity ; the dance is, in fact, a rude representation of sexual passion. It has been said that some of the Tasmanian corrobories hava a phallic design. The Yucatan dance of naual may als > be mentioned. The Andamans hop on one foot and swing the arms violently backwards and forwards. The Yeddahs jump with both feet together, patting their bodies, or clap-ping their hands, and make a point of bringing their long hair down in front of the face. In New Caledonia the dance consists of a series of twistings of the body, the feet being lifted alternately, but without change of place. The Fijians jump half round from side to side with their arms akimbo. The only modulation of the Samoan dance is one of time—a crescendo movement, which is well-known in the modern ball-room. The Javans are perhaps unique in their distinct and graceful gestures of the hand and fingers. At a Mexican feast called Huitzilopochtli, the noblemen and women danced tied together at the hands, and embracing one another, the arms being thrown over the neck. This resembles the dance variously known as the Greek Bracelet or Brawl, "OpfjLos, or Bearsfeet ; but all of them probably are to a certain extent symbolical of the relations between the sexes. Actual contact of the partners, however, is quite intelligible as matter of pure dancing; for, apart altogether from the pleasure of the embrace, the harmony of the double rotation adds very much to the enjoyment. In a very old Peruvian dance of ceremony before the Inca, several hundreds of men formed a chain, each taking hold of the hand of the man beyond his immediate neighbour, and the whole body moving forwards and backwards three steps at a time as they approached the throne. In this, as in the national dance of the Coles of Lower Bengal, there was perhaps a suggestion of " l'union fait le force." In Yucatan stilts were occasionally used for dancing.

It seldom happens that dancing takes place without accompaniment, either by the dancer or by others. This is not merely because the feelings which find relief in dancing express themselves at the same time in other forms ; in some cases, indeed, the vocal and instrumental elements largely predominate, and form the ground-work of the whole emotional demonstration. Whether they do so or not will of course depend on the intellectual advancement of the nation or tribe, and upon the particular development of their assthetical sensibility. A striking instance occurs among the Zulus, whose grand dances are merely the accompaniment to the colloquial war and hunting songs, in which the women put questions which are answered by the men. So also in Tahiti there is a set of national ballads and songs, referring to many events in the past and present lives of the people. The fisherman, the woodsman, the canoe-builder, has each his trade song, which on public occasions at least is illustrated by dancing. But the accompaniment is often consciously intended, by an appeal to the ear, to regulate and sustain the excitement of the muscles. And a close relation will be found always to exist between the excellence of a nation's dancing and the excellence or complexity of its music and poetry. In some cases the performer himself sings or marks time by the clanking of ornaments on his person. In others the accompaniment consists sometimes of a rude chant impro-vised by those standing round, or of music from instru-ments, or of mere clapping of the hands, or of striking one stick against another or on the ground, or of " marking time," in the technical sense. The Tasmanians beat on a rolled up kangaroo-skin. The Kamchadales make a noise like a continuous hiccough all through the dance. The Andamans use a large hollow dancing-board, on which one man is set apart to stamp. Sometimes it is the privilege of the tribal chief to sing the accompaniment while his people dance, The savages of New Caledonia whistle and strike upon the hip.

The rude imitative dances of early civilization are of extreme interest. In the same way, the dances of the Ostyak tribes (Northern Asiatic) imitate the habitual sports of the chase and the gambols of the wolf and the bear and other wild beasts, the dancing consisting mainly of sudden leaps and violent turns which exhaust the muscular powers of the whole body. The Kamchadales, too, in dancing, imitate bears, dogs, and birds. The Km dances of the Coast Negroes represent hunting scenes ; and on the Congo, before the hunters start, they go through a dance imitating the habits of the gorilla and its movements when attacked. The Damara dance is a mimic representation of the move-ments of oxen and sheep, four men stooping with their heads in contact, and uttering harsh cries. The canter of the baboon is the humorous part of the ceremony. The Bushmen dance in long irregular jumps, which they com-pare to the leaping of a herd of calves, and the Hottentots not only go on all-fours to counterfeit the baboon, but they have a dance in which the buzzing of a swarm of bees is represented. The Kennowits in Borneo introduce the mias and the deer for the same purpose. The Austra-lians and Tasmanians in their dances called corrobories imi-tate the frog and the kangaroo (both leaping animals). The hunt of the emu is also performed, a number of men passing slowly round the fire and throwing their arrows about so as to imitate the movements of the animal's head while feeding. The Gonds are fond qf dancing the bison hunt, one man with skin and horns taking the part of the animal. Closely allied to these are the mimic fights, almost universal among tribes to which war is one of the great interests of life. The Bravery Dance of the Dahomans and the Hoolee of the Bhil tribe in the Yindhya Hills are illustrations. The latter seems to have been reduced to an amusement conducted by professionals who go from village to village,— the battle being engaged in by women with long poles on the one side, and men with short cudgels on the other. There is here an element of comedy, which also appears in the Fiji club-dance. This, although no doubt originally suggested by war, is enlivened by the presence of a clown covered with leaves and wearing a mask. The monotonous song accompanying the club-dance is by way of commentary or explanation. So also, in Guatemala there is a public baile or dance, in which all the performers, wearing the skins and heads of beasts, go through a mock battle, which always ends in the victory of those wearing the deer's head. At the end the victors trace in the sand with a pole the figure of some animal; and this exhibition is supposed to have some historical reference. But nearly all savage tribes have a regular war-dance, in which they appear in fighting costume, handle their weapons, and go through the movements of challenge, conflict, pursuit or defeat. The women generally supply the stimulus of music. There is one very picturesque dance of the Natal Kaffirs, which probably refers to the departure of the warriors for the battle. The women appeal plaintively to the men, who slowly withdraw, stamping on the ground and darting their short spears or assegais towards the sky. In Madagascar, when the men are absent on war, the women dance for a great part of the day, believing that this inspires their husbands with courage. In this, however, there may be some religious significance. These war-dances are totally distinct from the institution of military drill, which belongs to a later period, when social life has become less impulsive and more reflective. There can be little doubt that some of the characteristic movements of these primitive hunting and war-dances survive in the smooth and ceremonious dances of the present day. But the early mimetic dance was not confined to these two subjects ; it embraced the other great events of savage life— the drama of courtship and marriage, the funeral dance, the consecration of labour, the celebration of harvest or vintage; sometimes,too, purely fictitious scenes of dramatic interest, while other dances degenerated into games. For instance, in Yucatan one man danced in a cowering attitude round a circle, while another followed, hurling at him bohordos or canes, which were adroitly caught on a small stick. Again, in Tasmania, the dances of the women describe their " clamber for the opossum, diving for shell-fish, digging for roots, nursing children, and quarrelling with husbands." Another dance, in which a woman by gesture taunts a chieftain with cowardice, gives him an opportunity of coming forward and recounting his cour-ageous deeds in dance. The funeral dance of the Todas (another Indian hill tribe), consists in walking backwards and forwards, without variation, to a howling tune of " ha ! hoo !" The meaning of this is obscure, but it can scarcely be solely an outburst of grief. In Dahomey the blacksmiths, carpenters, hunters, braves, and bards, with their various tools and instruments, join in a dramatic dance. We may add here a form of dance which is almost precisely equivalent to the spoken incantation. It is used by the professional devil-dancer of the wild Veddahs for the cure of diseases. An offering of eatables is put on a tripod of sticks, and the dancer, decorated with green leaves, goes into a paroxysm of dancing, in the midst of which he receives the required information. This, how-ever, rather belongs to the subject of religious dances.

It is impossible here to enumerate either the names or the forms of the sacred dances which formed so prominent a part of the worship of antiquity. A mystic philosophy found in them a resemblance to the courses of the stars. This Pythagorean idea was expanded by Sir John Davies, in his epic poem Orchestra, published in 1596. They were probably adapted to many purposes,—to thanks-giving, praise, supplication, and humiliation. It is only one striking illustration of this wide-spread practice, that there was at Rome a very ancient order of priests especially named Salii, who struck their shields and sang assamenta as they danced. The practice re-appeared in the early church, special provision being made for dancing in the choir. Scaliger, who astonished Charles V. by his dancing powers, says the bishops were called Prcssules, because they led the dance on feast days. According to some of the fathers, the angels are always dancing, and the glorious company of apostles is really a clwrus of dancers. Dancing, however, fell into discredit with the feast of the Agapce. St Augustine says, " Melius est fodere quam saltare;" and the practice was generally prohibited for some time. No church or sect has raged so fiercely against the cardinal sin of dancing as the Albigenses of Languedoc and the Waldenses, who agreed in calling it the deviFs procession. After the middle of the 18th century, there were still traces of religious dancing in the cathedrals of Spain, Portugal, and Roussillon,—-especially in the Mussarabian Mass of Toledo. An account of the numerous secular dances, public and private, of Greece and Rome will be found in the classical histories, and in Mr Weaver's Essay towards a History of Dancing, London, 1712, which, however, must be revised by more recent authorities. The Pyrrhic (derived from the Memphitic) in all its local varieties, the Bacchanalia, and the Hymensea were among the more important. The name of Lycurgus is also associated with the Trichoria. Among the stage dances of the Athenians, which formed interludes to the regular drama, one of the oldest was the Delian dance of the Labyrinth, ascribed to Theseus, and called Vepavo's, from its resemblance to the flight of cranes, and one of the most powerful was the dance of the Eumenides. A farther development of the art took place at Rome, under Augustus, when Pylades and Bathyllus brought serious and comic pantomime to great perfection. The subjects chosen were such as the labour of Hercules, and the surprise of Venus and Mars by Vulcan. The state of public feeling on the subject is well shown in Lucian's amusing dialogue He Saltatione. Before this Rome had only very inferior buffoons, who attended dinner parties, and whose art traditions belonged not to Greece, but to Etruria. Apparently, however, the Romans, though fond of ceremony and of the theatre, were by temperament not great dancers in private. Cicero says, " Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit." But the Italic Dance of the imperial theatre, supported by music and splendid dresses, supplanted for a time the older dramas. It was the policy of Augustus to cultivate other than political interests for the people ; and he passed laws for the protection and privilege of the pantomimists. They were freed from the jus virgarum, and they used their freedom against the peace of the city. Tiberius and Domitian oppressed and banished them ; Trajan and Aurelius gave them such titles as decurions and priests of Apollo ; but the pantomime stage soon yielded to the general corruption of the empire.

The modern ballet seems to have been first produced on a considerable scale in 1480, at Tortona, before Duke Galeazzo of Milan. It soon became a common amusement on great occasions at the European courts. The ordinary length was five acts, each containing several entrees, and each entrée containing several quadrilles. The accessories of painting, sculpture, and movable scenery were employed, and the representation often took place at night. The allegorical, moral, and ludicrous ballets were introduced to France by Bai'f in the time of Catherine de' Medici. Balthasar of Beaujeu appears also as a director of court ballets, in which amusement the royal families of France continued for long to take an active part. The complex nature of these exhibitions may be gathered from the title of one played at Turin in 1634—La verita nemica delta apparenza, sollevata dal tempo. Of the ludicrous, one of the best known was the Venetian ballet of La verita raminga. Now and then, however, a high political aim may be discovered, as in the " Prosperity of the Arms of France," danced before Richelieu in 1641, or " Religion uniting Great Britain to the rest of the World," danced at London on the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to the Elector-Frederick. Outside the theatre, the Portuguese revived an ambulatory ballet which was played on the canonization of Carlo Borromeo, and to which they gave the name of the Tyrrhenic Pomp. During this time also the ceremonial ball (with all its elaborate detail of courante, minuet, and saraband) was cultivated. The fathers of the church assembled at Trent gave a ball in which they took a part. Masked balls, too, resembling in some respects the Roman Saturnalia, became common towards the end of the 17th century. In France a ball was sometimes diversified by a masquerade, carried on by a limited number of persons in character-costume. Two of the most famous were named " au Sauvage" and " des Sorciers." In 1715 the regent of France started a system of public balls in the opera-house, which did not succeed. Dancing, also, formed a leading element in the Opéra Français introduced by Quinault. His subjects were chiefly marvellous, drawn from the classical mythologies ; and the choral dancing was not merely divertissement, but was intended to assist and enrich the dramatic action of the whole piece. The ideas of military evolution and of magic incantation reappear. Although Lully wrote the music, and the representation was supported by splendid decoration and mechanica' effects, the success of this new "tragedy " was short-livec'; and since then the modern ballet has never been more than a lyrical interlude. In this humbler function, however, it was greatly improved by La Motte, whose piece VEurope Galante (1697) is a sparkling and elegant production. The lyrical ballet draws much from Fairyland and Arcadia. The possibility of theatrical dance has been strenuously maintained by M. de Cahusac in his La Danse, Ancienne et Moderne, 3 vols., 1754 ; by M. de Noverre in his Lettres sur les Arts Imitateurs ; and by Diderot in the Encyclopédie Méthodique, 1786. It was illustrated by the performance of Pygmalion by Mdlle. Salle in London (1732).

Among the antiquities of this subject chorography, or orchesography, the art of dancing notation, deserves a place. The idea is as old as 1598 ; but about 1700 M. Feuillet published a complicated system, which was twice translated into English at the beginning of the 18th century by Mr Weaver and Mr Essex. A separate sign was used for each position, bend, rising, step, leap, cabriole, falling, slide, turn, and cadence ; and the track of the dance was represented by curved lines. These were sometimes printed along with the music. Such diagrams as still exist are interesting -enough as visible history of extinct dances ; but as a practical aid in teaching or composing dances chorography was entirely thrown aside as too cumbrous by Noverre, and by Sir John Gallini, the proprietor of the ancient concert rooms in Hanover Square, who wrote on this subject in 1726. The difficulty of the process may be seen by applying it to so comparatively simple a dance as the Scotch reel, which contains no less than 10 single steps—the ceum-siubhaile (forward step), the ceum-coisiche (footing step), the leum-trasd (cross-spring,—French, sissonne), the siabadh-trasd (chasing step), the aiseag-trasd (cross-passes), the fosgladh (open step), the cuartag (turn-ing step), and others. As may be seen from the technical language of dancing (assemblée, jetée, chassée, glissade, contre-danse, contre-temps, coupé, entrechat, bourrée, gaillarde, fleuret, <fcc.) it has undoubtedly been brought to greatest perfection in France. But space does not permit us to explain the steps or to describe the picturesque forms of dance which are still practised in town and country.

One sentence in conclusion upon dancing or musical gymnastics as an important branch of physical education. Long ago Locke pointed out [Education, sees. 67,196) that the effects of dancing are not confined to the body ; it gives to children, he says, not mere outward gracefulness of motion, but manly thoughts and a becoming confidence. Only lately, however, has the advantage been recognized of making gymnastics attractive by connecting it with what Homer calls " the sweetest and most perfect of human enjoyments." The practical principle against heavy weights and intense monotonous exertion of particular muscles is thus stated by Mr Smiles (Physical Education, p. 148) :— " The greatest benefit is derived from that exercise which calls into action the greatest number of muscles, and in which the action of these is intermitted at the shortest in-tervals." It required only one further step to see how, if light and changing movements were desirable, music would prove a powerful stimulus to gymnastics. It touches the play-impulse, and substitutes a spontaneous flow of energy for the mechanical effort of the will. The force of imitation or contagion, one of the most valuable forces in education, is also much increased by the state of exhilaration into which dancing puts the system. This idea was embodied by Froebel in his Kindergarten plan, and has been developed by Jahn and Schreber in Germany, by Dio Lewis in the United States, and by Ling (the author of the Swedish Cure Movement) in Sweden. It is of course not merely on aesthetic grounds (though these are sufficient) that musical gymnastics, as distinguished from the process of manufacturing a shell of muscle, are invaluable. They are, according to the testimony of all competent persons, indispensable to complete development and general health.

For the old division of the Ars Gymnastica intopaloestrica and sal-tatoria, and of the latter into cubistica, sphœristica, and orchestica, see the learned work of Hieronymus Mercurialis, Se arte Gymnastica, Amsterdam, 1572. Cubistie was the art of throwing somersaults, and is described minutely by Tuccaro in his Trois Dialogues, Paris, 1599. Sphseristic included several complex games at ball and tilting—the Greek KdpvKos, and the Roman trigonalis and paganica. Orchestic, divided by Plutarch into latio, figura, and indicatio, was really imitative dancing, the " silent poetry " of Simonides. The importance of the x^'po"0^" 01 hand-movement is indicated by Ovid :—" Si vox est, canta ; si mollia braehia, salta." For further information as to modern dancing, see Rameau's Le Maître à Danser, 1726, and Querlon's Le Triomphe des Graces, 1774. In the earlier part of this article considerable use has been made of the jEsthetic Products " of Mr Spencer's Sociological Tables. (W. C. S. )


The Greek Kapireia represented the surprize by robbers of a warrior ploughing a field. The gymnopsedie dances imitated the sterner sports of the paleestra.
The Greek Lenaia and Dionysia had a distinct reference to the seasons,

The Pantomimus was an outgrowth from the canticum or choral singing of the older comedies and fabulce Atellance.
Among the last demi-caractère ballets maybe mentioned the Fille mal gardée of Danberval ; among the anacreontic, the Dansomanie of Gardel-

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