The origins of dance reach back in time to earliest civilizations. Through the ages, dances have evolved as rituals and celebrations, as entertainment and recreation, and as artistic expression.
Native and tribal dances were part of the earliest cultures. Dances honored gods, celebrated fertility, summoned spirits of ancestors, and prayed for bountiful harvests. Evidence of these dances includes images found on rocks, relief sculptures, tombs, cultural artifacts, and references in religious texts.
In ancient Greece, dance, like other art forms, was important and highly valued. By Roman times, the intellectual status dance had in Greece was diminished, but dance was performed as entertainment for the wealthy and at spectacles at the Coliseum.
In Asia, dance was tied to religion from earliest times. Many dances over 1,000 years old are still performed today.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, ceremonial dance was associated with paganism and the excesses of Rome, so church leaders discouraged it. By the 1100s, however, dance was appearing in liturgical drama through miracle and mystery plays. And in Italy, a dance called the tarantella evolved from folklore about the bite of the tarantula spider.
During the Renaissance, dance, like all the arts, began to flourish. Court Ballet arose in Italy in the 1400s, but France became the center for ballet during the Baroque Period, when the first royal academy of dance was established and the foundational positions of this classic dance form were codified. Ballet enjoyed its “golden age” from 1760 to 1870.
Developments in the 1600s included the development of the waltz from folk dance origins in Germany and Austria. In the 1700s and 1800s, flamenco schools arose in Spain. And court dances were very popular in Europe. Meanwhile in America, folk dances and African rhythms came over with settlers and slaves. Modern dance, tap, and jazz dance are all important 20th century contributions of America to the world of dance.