BRIEF HISTORY OF DANCE AND RELATION WITH HISTORY
Folk dances are one of the means by which the members of any given community may share in various social experiences. They are, indeed, one of the oldest forms of community entertainment. Therefore, one assumed a connection through them with the past. Especially when we are dealing with a country which has an ancient written history as Greece’s, one tends to search for dances that may be ancient or even archaic.
That ancient Greeks danced cannot be denied. There are numerous references to dancing which have come down to us in the works of Homer, Plato, Socrates and others, as well as in the ancient theater. In some instances, even dance names have been included in a few theatrical works which have survived. Various dances are also depicted in a multitude of vase paintings. To assume, however, that the Greek dances of today are the same as the ancient dances would be folly. On the other hand, to say that there are no connections would also be inaccurate. Certainly many of the dances occasions have remained the same: weddings, religious feast days, national holidays. In addition to dances which are only for men or those only for women just as dances for a specific sex existed in ancient Greece.
Many people search for a meaning, story or history behind each dance and/or movement. Without doubt there are dances which depict particular events in the life cycle of the people, but by no means should one have the impression that every dance tells a story. Quite often a dance song will tell a story of either a local happening or an historical event. This is true for all regions of the country. The best known historical songs are the kleftika which describe many of the events and participants in the war for independence from The Turks. The majority of these songs are in syrto or tsamiko dance meter, but that does not necessarily mean that either one or both of these dances are acting out the events described.
There are dances or dance events (carnival, anastenaria, Kaloyeros, tzamala, etc.) which are usually for the purpose of ensuring fertility or abundance of crops. Describing an ancient Creta dance as depicted in scenes of the famous Harvester Vase, Lawler tell us “One of the men dancers stoops down and dances in a crouching position, striking the earth -as dancers do even today in Crete, during the village festivals to stir the earth to renewed production” (1985:36).
The birth of Bulgarian folk dances has to be sought in the distant past, in all manifestations of the life of Bulgarians - in their daily activities, in their pagan beliefs and customs, in their traditions.
The ancient Bulgarians were mainly engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting. And when a certain tribe reached the seashore or the course of a large river, they also showed themselves as good sailors and fishermen. The degree of economic development has always been reflected in the Bulgarian way of life, customs and traditions. It can be seen that in the folk dances, as well as in the songs on which they are played, how the daily activities of the people are reflected: harvesting, mowing, digging, etc.
Bulgarian folk dances, as the fruit of the collective mind and experience of the people, have followed the general historical development. They have been enriched both in terms of subject matter, as well as in terms of rhythm and variety of steps and movements. They have gradually moved from simpler to more complex and advanced forms, variants and combinations.
The type, form, tact and set of dance steps in Bulgarian folk dances inevitably illustrate all aspects of folk life: various processes of the people's work, individual moments of domestic life, some superstitions, rites and holidays. (Taratanci)
The origin of dance was still in primitive civilizations. We can consider that sign language was an early form of communication between humans, appearing even before speech.
Before Christianity configured itself as the greatest power in the Western world and condemned dance as profane, this expression was, on the contrary, regarded as sacred by the peoples of antiquity.
The Middle Ages was a period when the Catholic Church dictated the rules of society. There was a strong moralizing sense and the dance, by using the body, was seen as an unholy manifestation, related to pagan and heretic culture.
Meanwhile, peasants continued to dance at popular festivals, usually in groups. Even in castles dance was practiced in celebrations, which would later give rise to court dances.
It was in the Renaissance period that the dance began to have more artistic prominence. This language, once rejected and seen as a heretic, gains space among the nobility and begins to configure itself as a symbol of social status.
Thus, dance professionals emerge and a greater systematization of this expression, with groups of scholars who are dedicated to creating gestures and standardized movements. It is at this moment that the ballet emerges.
The period of Romanticism, which emerged at the end of the 18th century, was very fertile for classical dance in Europe, more precisely for ballet. It is when this type of dance consolidates and becomes one of the most representative artistic expressions of the period, transmitting all the sentimentality, idealization and tendency to "run away from reality", typical of romantics.
One of the shows that stood out at the time was Giselle (or Les Willis), first performed in 1840 by the Paris National Opera.
Here is a video of Giselle’s ballet:
In the first half of the 20th century, when modern art emerges, bringing a new look at artistic creation in general, modern dance also appears in the USA and Europe.
Thus, we can call modern dance a set of expressions that sought to break with the rigidity of classical dance. For this, several techniques were elaborated in order to bring more fluidity and freedom to the gesture, investigating in depth the restlessness and human emotions.
Typical folklore dances are circle, row and chain dances. Similar to these dance forms are also the hoop and weapon dances, which differ only in the requisit and their function. Later, community dances have also been developed. They contain a higher degree of dance figures. In this respect, the couple dances are more characterised by improvisation. Other important dances are the women's and men's dances and dances for special occasions such as a wedding (Oetke, Herbert, „Der deutsche Volkstanz“).
On of the oldest known German folk dance is the "Kreistanz" (circle dance). Many dances are danced in a circle. Dances that are danced in summer or as a harvest dance, but also in the so-called ballad dances. As early as 1012, the Brothers Grimm wrote in their fairy tale "Die Bauern zu Kohlbeck" how 18 women and men danced a round dance in a churchyard (Oetke, Herbert, „Der deutsche Volkstanz“, https://ihna.de/repertoire/tanzgeschichtlicher-hintergrund/).
In general, dance history can be divided into different stages. First, dances emerged from a primitive community. They are mostly religious and were danced at festivities such as harvest, hunting, solstice, birth, wedding or death. Despite being forbidden by the church, these dances were still practised until the 18th century, especially by the peasants.
From the 10th century onwards, the dances of the original community developed into dances that were bound to customs and traditions. Over time, however, the peasant customs and traditions declined and industrialisation in Germany intensified that these dances lost their connection to the customs.
In the next period, the dances gained more and more of a sociable character even without the awareness of their former meaning. For this reason, the folk dance movement, which emerged primarily from the youth movement, especially cultivated the sociable dances. These dances are also called "youth dances". These are also the dances that are mainly danced in traditional costume groups, folk dance clubs and schools to this day. From the GDR onwards, a new development is to be noted. Traditional folk dances are further developed from traditional traditions and transformed into artistic, dance-like works of art. This can be called the stage of choreographed stage dances (https://ihna.de/repertoire/tanzgeschichtlicher-hintergrund/).
The oldest written knowledge of ritual games of Baltic tribes reaches us from a variety of travelers in the beginning of the 10th century. It is believed that the oldest form of dance originated in ritual actions. It was movement in a circle, usually around a ritual object (tree, fire, field or other sacred place), as well as movement in a spiral, twisting in a "snake", jumping or tripping, moving according to the song being sung, using various symbolic related to the respective ritual (bread, drink, herbs etc.).
The sacrificial function itself constituted a religious dance. Over time, rites increasingly lost their religious meaning and became a pastime through customs. The nature of these dances was in keeping with the farmer’s life cycle. Relevant dances were performed on the occasion of various work finishes, family life events, and celebrations.
Over time, traditional custom dances began to change under the influence of other nations’ dances. However, the prevalence of foreign dance in Lithuania was reported back in the 17th century, although it may had started since the 14th century due to the openness of the country to international relations. Whilst in the 19th century the quadrilles became popular in many regions of Lithuania because of their similarity to some ancient Lithuanian dances, especially to singing games and sutartinės which included an opposite movement in couples, successive movement in contraposition, patterns of “a cross”, couples changing places, etc. Waltz firstly was mentioned in 1862, and it became a traditional dance in Lithuania. However, it was not as popular as polka which was performed as early as the mid-19th century in the North Eastern Lithuanian rustic areas. Prior to the emergence of this polka, some sutartinės displayed the same way of dancing. Additionally, the motif of a spinning couple and the rhythm of polk is charasteristic to other ancient Lithuanian dances and singing games. The majority of Lithuanian couple dances are based on the motives of polka.
At the beginning of the 20th century, with the strengthening of national consciousness and perception, there was a desire and affair to get rid of the influence of the outside world and appear with one's own authentic folklore. During the interwar years of independence, physical education teachers collected old folk dances, games, and songs, stylized them, and restored them.
In 1935 the Lithuanian folk dances "Kubilas", "Blezdingėlė" and "Kepurinė" were danced at the international exhibition in London and caused extraordinary success.
In June 29, 1937 the festival organized by "Jaunoji Lietuva" in Kaunas is considered to be the first dance festival. 448 dancers, selected from various parts of Lithuania, danced several folk dances according to the general drawing of the square.