History of Dance

Dance has played a role in everything from entertainment to religious ceremonies for years. It was a part of some of the earliest civilizations that date back to prehistoric times.

There are Indian and Egyptian tomb paintings of people dancing for different reasons. It is believed that dance has long been a means of telling stories. Some also believe that dance was a healing activity, practice in trance states, which is a practice still used in Brazilian culture.

An early record of dance in European cultures occurred in one of Homer’s books. Aristotle compared dancing to poetry, and dance was sometimes studied by sculptors and incorporated into still life works.


Ballet began in the royal court in Paris. It spread through Europe during the 18th century and was a much more natural form of dance than the

History of Dance

court dance many people had grown used to. Different costumes and choreography were incorporated into ballet and pointework became an important part of performances. During this time, ballerinas were comparable to modern day celebrities, and female ballerinas in particular enjoyed an elevated status in society.

Ballet began to change during the early 20th century. Many dancers wanted to push the boundaries of the art and blend modern performance techniques with classic traditions. Dance began to again incorporate ritual and religion, which heralded the beginnings of modern dance.

There was more freedom in art, including dance, during this time, and ballet was no longer the be all and end all of the dance world. In many cases, ballet was even viewed negatively during this time.

Modern Dance

Dance became a means of surprising and shocking audiences during this time. During the 1960s, dance experienced a postmodernist evolution. There was simplicity in dance and many rejected the costumes and stories that had long been a part of the art. This disappointed audiences and was considered commercially unsuccessful.

In the 1980s, modern or contemporary dance and ballet were equally accepted. Twyla Tharp, one of dance’s most well-known figures, joined ballet and modern dance into a blended style. It should also be noted that dance continued to enjoy mass popularity in forms such as street dance, pop music dance, and break dance.

There was a street culture revolution of sorts during the second half of the 20th century that was directly tied to popular music. Hip hop culture included four facets, one of which was break dancing. Television shows such as the Buddy Dean Show and Soul Train brought dancing to suburban America.

Music videos also brought dance into the homes of people from all walks of life. Teenagers copied the dance styles of their favorite musical artists, beginning with figures such as Elvis, straight through to Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Today, music and dance still go hand in hand, with choreographers working with pop singers as much as in theatrical and stage performances.