It is difficult to suggest a single aspect of human existence and experience that is not connected to dancing. Everything that exists is at some time or place touched, celebrated, asked for, feared and defended, or otherwise the subject of a dance.
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These dances might be performed by a single person for a few seconds, or these dances might be performed by millions of people for thousands of years. And these dances might be private, or unseen, or might be watched by millions, or billions. And everything in between these extremes. Throughout the development of human history, dance has developed too, in parallel, reflecting humanity and civilisation, in terms of:.
The earliest dancing, like the earliest singing, music and cooking, was instinctive, intuitive, experimental, and taught personally by demonstration and observation, shown person to person, tribe to tribe, and passed down from generation to generation - thousands or millions of years before books and writing. This type of dancing, after evolving to varying degrees, persists as folk dancing, as it is commonly technically called.
For tens of thousands of years, dance in this most basic form was accompanied by people's voices, and the most rudimentary of musical and percussive instruments, Later, when humans had evolved more and could make better tools, about , years ago, dance became more commonly accompanied by percussion - basically wooden things hollow logs, blocks, etc that people would strike with smaller wooden things sticks essentially.
Incidentally the drum with skin membrane stretched over a wooden shell was invented in Chinese Neolithic culture around BC over 7, years ago. We know this from ancient archeological evidence, and more particularly from studying 'lost' tribes especially in recent South America , whose cultures have not been touched or altered for many thousands of years.
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And this happened for hundreds of thousands of years relatively unchanged, until humankind developed the capability to write and draw on paper - to record and transfer knowledge - and to make more sophisticated musical instruments and music. As part of this growth and development, in both cause and result, dancing became more formalised and structured - with descriptions, and types and styles, and standards and rules, and all sorts of variations that could be recorded, and shared and taught and learned by everyone.
This stage of dance development coincided with the beginnings of the modern age and globalization, which dramatically influenced the evolution of dance. Humankind began to travel and communicate like never before. Social and political structures became more organized around the world, and ideas and customs were shared and spread and blended, which is reflected in the development of dancing. The age of the European colonial powers mainly 14thth centuries increasingly exported European rule and people and ideas into Africa, Asia and the Americas, and also moved ideas and people from these regions back into Europe and elsewhere, especially from Africa to the Americas, through the appalling slave trade, and use of slavery particularly in the Americas and Caribbean.
North America especially became a vast laboratory for the importing and blending of dances. All over the world, early tribal and folk dances were preserved and clung to by people who were oppressed, relocated or disenfranchised. This is particularly significant in South and North America, where slaves, stripped of everything, and randomly mixed together from different tribal origins, having no common languages, used percussion and song and dance as a way to bond, relate, and maintain and reform communities and social groups. Slave owners typically banned drums and other attempts to create music.
Slaves were largely treated far worse than animals. Think about it.. Through generations, millions of African people were forced to work and live in the most desperate living conditions imaginable, having only their voices for singing, and their bodies for dancing, and it is from these roots that much 'Western' and 'Latin' dancing grew, becoming absorbed and adopted into new national cultures and identities as slavery declined and ceased, and the new countries of the Americas were formed.
And all the time, these developments were imported back to Europe, often adapted, and then spread further, including back to where they'd been first found. This is a very broad overview of the Africa-Americas dance history that can be regarded as an example of a major aspect of dance history internationally. Similar evolution of dance, alongside massive social and demographic movements, has always happened in other parts of the world.
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Dance is a mirror of civilizations and societies, whether in the Americas, or the Far East, or the Russian Empire, or the Arab world, or India or Australasia. Dance grows and spreads and blends with the changing world, especially when people are forced to live in very basic ways. Across the globe, dance has been a central feature of human behaviour and culture for all religions, creeds, societies and ethnic groups.
We know from records, stories and rituals as well as from modern day observations of tribal rituals that dance - alongside music, singing, cooking and eating - has played a pivotal role in group bonding and identity.
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We dance to teach - children especially - but also young people so they learn about relationships and love and mating and socialising. Dancing is in customs all over the world, and dancing helps groups and communities stay and work together - to communicate, to bond and to feel part of the whole. We dance because it is part of our human make-up. Dancing is as much a part of being human as eating and drinking, as walking, seeing, singing, smiling, loving, and laughing.
However the significance of dance and dancing is not widely and fully appreciated. Millions of people simply do not dance - just as millions of people do not eat fresh fruit or vegetables, or walk, or smile, or love or truly seek to be happy. So part of the purpose of this article is to encourage, enable, and facilitate more people to dance, and to use our minds and bodies more naturally, as they are made to be used. This article's purpose is also to encourage people to teach children to dance - especially those who will benefit most from doing so - just as we want people and especially our children to live more happily and healthily.
So please take what you can from this article - vast sections of content - of just a simple single sentence or phrase or maxim - and dance for yourself a little more joy and wellbeing - or a lot - or help in some way in teaching others about dance and encourage others to dance - and bring a little more dance into our world - or a lot if you are so inspired - because doing so will surely make this world a better place.
So we must be careful not to define 'dance' too rigidly, or we begin to exclude many activities that correctly should be called dance. Now as regards more formal definitions and language, the word 'dance' is extraordinary for a number of reasons. Also the word 'dance' alone does not need the word 'a' in front of it, in which case it's a rather bigger sort of noun - like 'life' has a big meaning of 'life' e. So 'dance' is a noun meaning a single dance 'a movement to rhythm', and it's also a noun meaning the concept or entire subject of dance.
These dictionary definitions are offered here with the warning, explained above, that we should not define 'dance' too rigidly, and especially we should be flexible in the notion that dance be rhythmic and accompanied by music.. Interestingly the definition from the OED is more flexible than the above modern definition, because it does not say that music is essential: "Dance noun - A rhythmical skipping and stepping, with regular turnings and movements of the limbs and body, usually to the accompaniment of music Websters Dictionary an important USA dictionary defines dance as: "Dance - To move the body and feet rhythmically, especially to music The Oxford English Dictionary definition of dance, the verb, is: "Dance verb - Move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps The OED definition of dance, the verb, is: "Dance" verb - To leap, skip, hop, or glide, with measured steps and rhythmical movement of the body, usually to a musical accompaniment Samuel Johnson's English dictionary - the first dictionary of common English - says that dance verb means: " To move in measure; to move with steps correspondent to the sound of instruments..
A thesaurus is a dictionary-type of book that offers synonyms - words of equivalent meanings - and similar and related alternatives to words - rather than strict definitions. Here are some of the main alternatives and variations that a thesaurus offers for the word 'dance' and 'dancing' from the thesaurus published by Penguin, UK. Those are just the main synonyms and words which might equate to a dance and dancing, and mainly from a British angle.
There are hundreds more synonyms and alternative possible words meaning dance and dancing, especially when we consider more recent or informal or international words, that might not be included in official dictionaries and thesaurus books yet.. Besides illustrating the depth and variety of words that exist for the concept of dance, a thesaurus perspective also demonstrates the vast cultural implications of dance, which is a different matter compared to the strict definitions of dance offered by a standard dictionary.
Some profound fundamental words do not have these qualities - for example 'food', 'life', 'song', 'birth', and 'death', all of which have rather different verb forms. Dance is in a special group of words - which are both noun and verb, and fundamental to human existence - for example 'love', 'drink', 'talk', 'walk', and 'rain'.
Moreover there are few words - in the same form - that refer to an entire universal concept 'dance' as a concept , and to a single example within the concept 'a dance' , and to a verb 'to dance'. So besides its more complex meanings and interpretations, the word dance is grammatically quite unusual.
For example, a 'hatpin' is easy to define in a short sentence. There is absolutely no doubt what a hatpin is from the short definition, i. If we try to define bigger concepts such as love or life or death or air - or dance - in a short sentence then we can confuse and complicate matters, either by offering a definition that is too vague, or by trying to cover all possible interpretations, in which case the definition becomes a big description containing mostly unhelpful information for a given single perspective.
Here is a list of characterizing or qualifying characteristics for 'dance'. This can be regarded as another way to help to define dance.
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This is not an official list, it is created for this webpage by the author. You can devise your own characteristics if you wish, or adapt this. Remember some or all of these might apply, in order for something to be considered a form of 'dance' or 'dancing':. Chambers Etymological Dictionary of word origins suggests that dance came into English from French about , firstly as dauncer, from Old French dancier, and before this either from Frankish dintjan like Middle Dutch deinsen, and densen, to shrink back , or from Vulgar Latin deanteare, from Late Latin deante, meaning 'in front of', from de and ante.
Cassells etymological dictionary is certain that dance came into English from Old French dancer, to dance, thC, and which also became the modern French word 'danser' meaning to dance, and that these words came from Frankish dintjan, which is of uncertain origin.
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Samuel Johnson's English dictionary - the first English dictionary for common words - says that dance is from French, danser, and dancar, Spanish, and thought by some to derive from tanza, in the 'Arabick' language meaning Arabic. Interestingly the origins of the word dance via Latin through French became confused because there was a religious ban on dancing in the Middle Ages, which affected the evolution of the word.
Significant in 'dance word history' is that dance was such a powerful concept that religious authorities in France decided to ban dancing altogether. The word dance is heavily influenced by this aspect of Anglo-French history. We 'dance' because the French notably the Norman French invaded and colonized England. Had the Romans or Vikings been similarly colonial, and left more of their culture after invading England, then our word for dance might be 'danza' Italian or similar, or 'danzleikr' old Norse or similar.
Within this brief overview of dance etymology and its main European equivalents, we also see similarities in the words for dance in the different languages, suggesting a very old word from a very old root, way back in time when European language was first developing from 'Indo-European' and similar ancient languages, prior to western civilisation itself, in the prehistoric times of hunter-gatherers.
This was before the need to have words beyond the most basic in life - before paper and books and pencils and writing.
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This would be in the days when people's language vocabularies were spoken only, and included just essential words like food and drink, and run and sleep and sun and sky The words dance, dancing, and dancer feature strongly in English sayings, slang and colloquial informal common language. These expressions and descriptions of dance imagery are part of the cultural history of dance - and life - and illustrate the richly textured relationships between people and societies, with dance and dancing.
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Eric Partridge's famous Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English first published in offers several fascinating uses of the word dance. These examples are interesting because they reflect society and language of the s and early s:. Brewer's dictionary of Phrase and Fable says of dance: "Dance.
The Spanish danza was a grave and courtly dance.