The urge to move whenever one hears music, whether it is a full orchestra or the simple beat of a drum, is so universal among the human psyche that there is no cul- ture on earth that does not have its own traditions of dance. Dance is a unique art form in that it is almost entirely physical, relying on the person to create a distinct type of expression and transmit it to an audience to tell a story, demonstrate a skill, or express joy through physical motion. Dance can be as simple as one person weaving to a beat or as complicated as a dozen performers acting in perfect synchronization. The history of dance goes back as far as the history of humanity itself. Rock art from prehistoric sites portrays dancing figures, whereas statues made from clay, rock, and precious stone have survived the centuries to tell stories of dance in ancient Indian, Chinese, Greek, and Egyptian cultures. It is probable that the oldest instruments discovered, flutes carved from animal bones tens of thousands of years ago, led our ancestors to dance as well as play and sing. Most of the dances discussed in this chapter fall into one of several major categories. Many are folk dances, performed by peasants and farmers at ceremo- nies like weddings and funerals. Others are tribal dances, specific to one ethnic or cultural group, where young boys become men in initiation ceremonies, or shamans and priests call on the spirits to send good fortune, rain, or herds of animals. Other dances (including many modern dances) are mating rituals, meant to demonstrate the physical strength and dexterity of a man, sometimes in contrast to the reserve or restraint of a woman. Yet there are many more types of dances, including quite a few that have no purpose other than to express emotion. Dance can be organic and improvised, relying on no explicit set of movements, or it can be highly technical and choreographed, forcing participants to practice until their bodies are so attuned to the beat that they will not make a mistake. Some dances carry strict penalties for failing. The baining fire dance, for exam- ple, requires participants to leap through a scorching bonfire. One misstep can be disastrous, or even fatal. By contrast, a spiritual dance like the Japanese kabuki dance is meant to invoke the favor of gods and spirits, meaning that a misstep is not physically harmful but can call down misfortune on an entire community. Oftentimes, dance involves an elaborate costume. This costume does not need to be complex; in the case of the Arabic belly dance, in fact, less is more. A national dance often requires a national costume, as is the case for the Mexican jarabe tapatío (the hat dance), where men wear large sombreros while women wear flowing dresses. The costume of a dance may help to tell a story by assigning a quality to the participant—a hero, a suitor, a god, an animal, or a rebel. Virtually all costumes for dance are bright and energetic, meant to stimulate the senses just as much as the dancers themselves.
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