Long before there was a written record of most cultures, there was dance. For primitive

cultures, dance commemorated births, marriages, religious occasions, deaths, political

victories, wars and other events.

We normally think of dance as one of the fine arts, and so it is. But dance requires

athletic as well as artistic ability. Whether we choose ballet, modern dance, jazz or ethnic

dance, the movements required in dancing demand stamina, strength and endurance.



In ancient Egypt, dance was an important

part of daily life. Drawings done in the

fourth century B.C. suggest that Egyptians

had a fairly advanced concept of dance.

Some Egyptian dances were similar to our

ballroom dancing; others were like modern

belly dancing.

Ancient Greece also had its dances, some

quite similar to those of the Egyptians. Onedance in particular became famousa ritual in which Greek women stamped on grapes

and whirled about in honor of the god Dionysus. The Greek dramatist, Euripides, wrote

a play about the ecstatic dimension of dance. The play was called
The Bacchae.In it,

an overly-serious man, Pentheus, did not recognize the dangers of being caught up in

wild dances, and was torn limb-from-limb by the women, who mistook him for an animal.

Rome was a little slower to incorporate dancing into daily life, using dance mainly in

choral processions until about 200 B.C. Many Romans considered dancing a dangerous

activity and felt that only the insane would dance by choice. Yet by the second century

B.C., Romans were using pantomime dance in dramas.

During the Middle Ages, dance as an art form spread

all over Europe. Italy with its many festivals and

celebrations, made use of jugglers and offered instruction

in social dance. During the late Middle

Ages, the earliest form of ballet emerged as part of the

Italian commedia del arte or in England, as part of the socalled

mystery cyclesof religious dramas that traveled from

town to town with minstrels and jugglers.

The word
balletti,originally referring to dances performed in

ballrooms, was first used to refer to productions in the theatre. In

1581, the first ballet,
Circe,was written and produced by an Italian-

born Frenchman. Another Italian who was living in France, Jean

Baptiste Lully, established a dance department at the Royal Academy

of Music in 1661. Lully was responsible for influencing the

music, scenery and movements used in classical ballet.

By the 1600s, the center for ballet moved from Italy to France where

the Academie Royale de Danse was founded. With the advent of

the Academie, there was now a special school for ballet. Dance was a discipline taught

and administered by specialists.

By the 1700s, ballet had progressed to the point where the well-to-do felt that dance was

simply part of any well-rounded general education. It was also thought to teach good

manners and character. Consequently, many rich European children were taught to dance.

America brought a somewhat different attitude to the art of dance. Colonists in the south

were generally more tolerant of dance than those in the Puritan-dominated North. How

ever, there were plenty of dancing teachers in both North and South to teach the dances

remembered from the Old World. African-American slaves also brought their own dances

from Africa which later became an influence on dancing in the nineteenth and twentieth


The nineteenth century saw a tremendous growth of interest in ballet. The Italian Marius

Petipa left Italy to work in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1847; he choreographed such works

of classical ballet as
Don Quixote,” “Swan Lakeand The Nutcracker.Promoter

Sergei Diaghilev imported ballet from Russia to America, bringing with him such dancers

as Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky and choreographer George Balanchine.

Balanchine established the New York City Ballet and eventually helped to change the

face of dance in America.


As ballet gained a foothold in America, another form of dance

was created in direct opposition to the principles of ballet.

Innovator Isadora Duncan had a ballet background, yet found

that the strict movements of classical ballet did not allow her

sufficient freedom of expression. She created her own dance

form based on the spontaneous expression of feelings
whatwe later came to call modern dance.Inspired by Isadora

Duncan, dancers such as Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn created

a school and company to train the next generation of

modern dancers, among them Martha Graham. She in turn

trained Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp,

all of whom have helped to make America the center of modern



Jazz dancing is a form closely related to modern dance. It was originally inspired by

African-American slave music which eventually developed into jazz. The syncopated

rhythm of jazz music enhances the jerky, high-energy style of jazz dancing.


Aerobic dance involves doing a variety of stepping, jumping, spinning and twisting

motions, following the rhythms of music. It is a fairly recent addition to dance, and

started simply as a form of rhythmic exercise to increase the

heart rate. Yet it quickly developed into a form of its own, borrowing

many of the steps and movements of ballet, jazz and

modern dance.


Although dance had frequently been used as part of a drama or

an opera, only with the twentieth century production of OKLAHOMA!

did dance theater take on a new dimension. Agnes

deMille choreographed the dance sequences in this musical and

made them an integral part of the story. She used ballet, folk

dance and modern dance to carry the story line. Similar contributions

were made by Jerome Robbins, choreographer of the

dance sequences in WEST SIDE STORY.


Dance is an excellent form of exercise for both women and men of all ages. Dance never

remains stagnant; it is always changing, always incorporating new movements and

rhythms from many cultures and lifestyles. Today the well-rounded dancer studies ballet,

jazz, modern, tap dance and aerobics in his or her quest to learn the language of


Unfortunately, only a few highly talented professionals are

able to make a living exclusively by dance. Funding in

the arts is scarce and many dance companies have

folded for lack of public support.

In addition, dance is a demanding career, requiring

dancers to begin their training at an early age.

Many talented dancers drop out of school before

they have developed other skills. Professional

dance in America is a young person
s game and

those over thirty often find it difficult to find work.

Sadly, dancers may train for fifteen years to dance

for only a few years. In an entire career, a talented

dancer will make only one-quarter of the

salary that a pro baseball player will make in one




The five positions of the feet in classical dance are the basic moves around

which all ballet and other dance movements are developed. Ballet students

must first become proficient in the five positions and learn to do

warmup exercises in these positions. In all forms of dance, warmup exercises,

stretches and flexes are always the first movements done before

anything else is attempted:

First position: Legs are side by side with the heels of both feet touching.

Second position: Legs are slightly apart with the feet turned outward.

Third position: The front (right) leg is partially in front of the left leg, with the heel

of the right foot in front of the left arch.

Fourth position: The right leg and foot are placed in front of the left leg and slightly

separated from it. The weight of the body should fall evenly over

both legs.

Fifth position: The same as the fourth position except that the legs and feet are positioned

tightly together.

In each position, the dancer must remain erect, maintaining good posture, with stomach

muscles pulled tight, head up and knees straight.


For practice and rehearsals, clothing ranges

from grubby leotards and sweat pants to full

costumes for dress rehearsals. The essential

property of any dance clothing is that it provides

for a full range of motion of all bodyparts.

In short, you can
t dance if you dont have freedom
of movement.


Usually, when one thinks of dance competitions, one thinks of old movies like Saturday

Night Fever,in which John Travolta competed in disco dancing contests, or TheyShoot Horses, Don

t They,in which Jane Fonda competed in marathon dancing, where

contestants danced until they dropped. The last couple standing won the prize.

Reality is much more interesting. For example, every three years, the New York International

Ballet Competition draws contestants from all over the world to compete, show

their talents, and enhance their career opportunities. Winning dancers are awarded medals

based on their cumulative scores.

On the collegiate level, International Collegiate Ballroom Dancing Competitions attract

student dancers from all over the world, to compete for awards and opportunities after


In case you still think that dance is limited to the Senior

Prom, the United States and Canada combined

list hundreds of collegiate dance teams on the Internet.

The actual number is much greater. A quick glance at

College Course Guides shows the increased popularity

of dance as a field of study. There are not only

many dance classes you can take for college credit,

but also many courses which focus on dance and

movement as therapy for those with mental and/or

physical problems.

Gene Kelly, one of the world
s greatest movie dancers

died on February 2, 1996. Kelly was among

s premiere performers, both as a dancer and

as an actor. His role as DArtagnan in The ThreeMusketeers

has never been equalled.

Other dancers often compared Kelly with Fred

Astaire. While Astaire
s dancing style was seen as restrained and sophisticated, Kellys

was seen as flamboyant and romantic. His movie, An American in Paris,climaxedwith a 17-minute ballet with Leslie Caron. But his glorious dance number,

Dancing inthe Rain,is remembered by everyone as his crowning achievement.

You can stay abreast of dance performance and competitions by checking out sites like

this one on the internet:


The following questions will help you to have a greater appreciation and understanding

of dance. Write your answers in the spaces below the questions. If there is not enough

room, write on the backs of these sheets. Be neat, spell correctly, and write in complete


1. How was dance used in primitive cultures?

2. Name at least four types of dance practiced today.

3. What physical benefits can be derived from dance?

4. What is
aerobic danceand how did it develop?

5. Why is dance such a demanding and difficult career for many young dancers?

6. What are the five positions of classical ballet?

7. Describe the posture that must be maintained in each of the five positions.

8. Who developed modern dance and why?

9. What is
theatrical danceand how did it originate?
10. What was the musical inspiration for modern jazz dancing?

Short Answer Questions:

1. Developed modern dance

2. Number of foot positions in classical ballet

3. Romans thought dance was _____

4. Italian who choreographed Don Quixote and Swan Lake

5. Early Greek who wrote about ecstasy of dance

6. Established the New York City Ballet

7. Isadora

8. Dancing as part of a drama or musical

9. Type of dancing closely related to modern dance

10. During this age dance became an art form

11. The choreographer of West Side Story

12. Ballet position with feet turned out

13. Ballet position with heels of both feet touching

14. Type of dance develped in America

15. She was a contemporary American modern dancer

16. Combination of exercise and dance

17. Early dance productions in the theater

18. Brought ballet from Russia to North America

19. Producer of some of the modern ballet conventions

20. She was a great American modern dancer