Greek terra cotta dancing girl,
about 350 B.C. (British Museum.)
Greek mythology attributes the origin of dancing
to Rea who taught this art to Kourites in Crete. Cretan dances
were performed in open or closed circles. Cretans were usually
dancing around a tree, an altar, or mystical objects in order to
free themselves from the evil. Later on, they used to dance
around a singer or a musician.
Christianity & Dance
The institution of Christianity in Greece put the
reins on the development of dance in Greece. Dance performances
were banned, which resulted in dance taking an “underground”
turn to pagan tradition that lasted up to the period of
Byzantium. Much of the current folk traditions eventually
returned to Greece by way of the Ionian Islands which were ruled
As early as the first century
A.D., ancient Greek tragedy, which at its peak of harmonious
unity, incorporated poetry, music and dance, had disintegrated
into its component elements.
Actor-tragedians continued to perform only certain parts of the
dialogue of the tragedies, while others with good voices sang
the vocal parts. There also arose a gesticulator whose purpose
was to illustrate, with pantomimic gestures, what the
actor-tragedian was singing. This gradually transformed the old
Attic style of tragedy and comedy into the tragic-pantomime
style of the imperial Byzantine years that included dance, mime,
recitation and song. The reactions of the Church Fathers and the
stream of condemnatory decisions and excommunications issued by
ecumenical synods indicate the popularity of these
spectacle-concerts in multi-ethnic Byzantium and the influence
of the mime performances on the austere moral code of the
Christians for many centuries to come.
|Greek dancers could also be
expert gymnastic tumblers.
These acrobats were skilled at playing between knives and swords. Rope-dancing or
funambulus likely begun with the
Greek Dance Terminology
--dithyrambic poetry -lyric poetry
performed in song and dance as a tribute to the god Dionysus
--nomic poetry - choral lyrics, performed in praise of
Apollo and other gods
--drama of tragedy and comedy the chorus conveys the
elements of the play's text in song and dance.
• Pyrrihic dance
was the most known among martial dances, part of the basic
military education in both Athens and Sparta.
• Gymnopaedia is the early
history of present-day gymnastics.
• Geranos This dance included
serpentine movements, imitating the movements of Theseus inside
was a dionysiac dance danced on top of the vats while treading
the grapes with their feet.
was the dance of tragedy, enhancing the events enacted on
was the dance of the comedy was looked down on, and in general
regarded as unworthy of serious men.
•Sikkinis was the dance of the
satirical drama, imitating the movements of cats and danced by
• Imeneos was the dance of the
marriage. It was danced by the bride with her mother and
friends. It was quick with a lot of twists and turns.
• Hormos is according to Lucian a
common dance of the young men and women who dance one by the
other forming a chain. The leader is a young man who shows his
dancing and martial abilities through his movements. A young
woman follows him providing an example of solemnity and decency
to all other women dancers.
• Iporchima was a combination of
dance and pantomime, singing and music. It comes from Crete. It
was danced by boys and girls together singing choric poems.
Greek dances may be divided into sections somewhat thus:
•religious dances including the
Emmeleia, the Hyporchema, the Gymnopedia, and the Endymatia
•gymnastic nature, which include the
military dances as well as tumblers
mimetic character: sign-talk, which
antedates spoken language
theatre, such as the chorus,
partly social, partly religious dances,
such as the hymeneal and wedding chain dance
--chamber dances often shown
Dancing Bacchante. From a vase in
the British Museum.
Bacchanalian dancer. Vase from Nocera,
Greek and Bacchanalian Dance
Dance, according to Greek thought, was one of the
civilizing activities, like wine-making and music.
Most Greek Mythology was written by poets, like
Homer, and as the spiritual sustenance for its people, dance
communicated its wisdom and truth as effectively as words.
dancing tradition prevalent among the Greeks was likely inherited
from Crete which was conquered by Greece around 1500 BC but Greece
was very effective in synthesizing the best from surrounding
cultures, its poets and artists borrowed significantly from
surrounding Pyria and Thrace and its scholars were being initiated
into the Egyptian mysteries by temple priests long before Alexander
the Great conquered Egypt. Learning to dance
was considered a necessary part of and education which favored
appreciation of beauty.
Ancient Greece drove a sharp distinction between
the Apollonian dance and the Dionysian dance. The former – the
Apollonian dance – was accompanied by guitars called lyres, lutes
and kitharas. It was a ceremonial dance incorporating slower cult
dances performed during religious festivals, as well as martial and
social dances performed during communal events and funeral
practices. The Dionysian or Bacchanalian dance, associated with the
cult of Dionysus, is about passion, panic and desire. It is an
“orgasmic” dance with breathtaking moves whose purpose is to connect
all to a frenetic dance vibration. The synthesis of the Apollonian
and the Dionysian is the art of dance. The tension between these
opposites played an instrumental role in the shaping of the ancient
Greek theatre and the birth of tragedy in the evolution of the arts
The lively imagination and mimetic powers of the
Greeks found abundant subjects for various kinds of dances, and
accordingly to William Smith, in his authoritive
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the
names of no less than 200 different dances have come down to us.
With the Greeks, dancing was primarily part
of a religious rites; with music it formed the lyric art. The term
however, for them included all those actions of the body and limbs, and
all expressions and actions of the features and head which suggest
ideas; marching, acrobatic performances, and mimetic action all came
into the term.
Skillful dancers were at all times highly prized by the Greeks: we
read of some who were presented with golden crowns, and had statues
erected to their honour, and their memory celebrated by
inscriptions. There were dancers of all grades, from
the distinguished to the moderate. Distinguished dancers, unlike among
the Romans, could even marry
into upper-class positions, if they did not already occupy them by birth.
Philip of Macedon married Larissa, a dancer, and the dancer Aristodemus
was ambassador to his Court. The greatest men were
not above showing their sentiments through their dancing. Sophocles
danced around the trophies of the battle of Salamis. AEschylus and
Aristophanes danced in various performances of their own plays.
While the important religious and other dances were not generally
performed by professionals there was plenty of opportunity for
professional dancers who could also find work at the symposiums
and entertainment of the men was as important as the conversation
and more popular than listening to after-dinner speeches.
According to some authorities, one of the earliest
dances was attributed to Phrygian origin, was the
Aloenes, danced to the Phrygian flute by the priests of Cybele in
honour of her daughter Ceres. The dances ultimately celebrated in her
cult were numerous: such as the Anthema, the Bookolos, the
Epicredros, and many others, some rustic for labourers, others of
shepherds, etc. Every locality seems to have had a dance of its own.
Dances in honour of Venus were common, she was the patroness of proper
and decent dancing. On the other hand, those in honour of Dionysus or
Bacchus concluded with revelry by all which is a form of degeneration as
well as unity. This practice, also known as today's Carnaval has
continued to remain popular by all who honor the natural impulses of the
human spirit with a period of release from everyday masks of necessary
Geronos or chain dance
|Sexes did not mix during dance except for
the chain or geronos dance. The dance reenacts the story of
Ariadne, future wife of
Dionysus and daughter of King
Minos, aiding Theseus to escape the labyrinth after killing
the Minotaur. The lovers flee to the island of Naxos where
they erect a monument to Aphrodite and dance a winding,
mazelike dance in her honor to celebrate their love.
Grown up men and women did
not generally dance together, but the youth of both sexes joined in
the Geronos [Hormos] or chain dance. When it was
performed, the geranos was danced anamix -- boy-girl,
boy-girl order. The Theseus story was also the
initiation myth for Greek
youth. Here Homer describes this dance:
Here young men and the most desired young girls
were dancing, linked, touching each other’s wrists,
the girls in linen, in soft gowns....
Trained and adept, they circled there with ease
the way a potter sitting at his wheel
will give it a practice twirl between his palms
to see it run; or else, again, in lines
as though in ranks, they moved on one another:
vase in the Museo Borbonico, Naples.
|The following woodcut, taken from
vases, shows three Pyrrhicists, two of whom with shield and
sword are engaged in the dance, while the third is standing
with a sword. Above them is a female balancing herself on
the head of one, and apparently in the act of performing a
somersault; she no doubt is taking part in the dance, and
performing a very artistic kind of tumbling. Her
danger is increased by the person below, who holds a sword
pointing towards her. A second female may be providing music
or be a spectator.
Among the gymnastic the most important
were military dances, the invention of which was attributed to Minerva;
of these the Korybantum was the most remarkable. It was of
Phrygian origin and of a mixed religious, military, and mimetic
character; the performers were armed, and bounded about, springing and
clashing their arms and shields to imitate the Corybantes endeavouring
to stifle the cries of the infant Zeus, in Crete. The Pyrrhic
a war dance of Doric origin, was a rapid dance to the double flute, and
made to resemble an action in battle; the Hoplites of Homer is
thought to have been of this kind. The Dorians were very partial to this
dance and considered their success in battle due to the celerity and
training of the dance.
In subsequent periods it was imitated by
female dancers as a mimetic
performance as well as training
for war, thus we read of its being
danced by women to entertain a company or as a hand-in-hand
dance alternately of males and females.
The featured dance at a Dionysian festival was called
a dithyramb -- it featured music by a double flute played in the
Phrygian mode of music. The characteristic dance at these dithyrambs
was the tyrbasia, a dance full of movement and improvisation. The Satyric dance would see
the most illustrious men in the state danced in it, representing Titans,
Corybantians, Satyrs, and husbandmen much delighting the spectators.
The life and adventures of the god Dionysos were represented by
mimetic dancing as well as the l
The Chorus, composed of singers and dancers, formed
part of the drama, which included the recitation of some poetic
composition, and included gesticulative and mimetic action as well as
dancing and singing. The Dorians were especially fond of this; their
poetry was generally choral, and the Doric forms were preserved by the
Athenians in the choral compositions of their drama. [More
about the Chorus on the Masks of Tragedy & Comedy Page]
The tragic dance, Emmelia, was solemn; whilst
that in comedy, Cordax, was frivolous, and the siccinis,
or dance of Satyrs, was often obscene. They danced to the music of the
pipes, the tambour, the harp, castanets, cymbals, etc.
Greek dancers. From a vase in the Hamilton Collection.
efficiency and plasticity of the human body are dominant,
particularly in the movements of the upper body. The torso,
hands and wrist are instrumental in the reenactment of dramatic,
tragic and lyric motifs. The face mirrors emotions that are in
tune with music and rhythm.
The art form attracted some significant talents such
as Sophron of Syracuse, whose writings kept at hand by Plato during
his last hours. Ovueikou were pantomimists of lesser rank, whose
work was principally comedy of a farcical nature—though the word
seems to have the primitive meaning of "chorister
both a dance and a form of satirical mimodrama. It burlesqued the
politics, philosophy and drama of the day and was said to cater to
the taste of the common people for vulgarity and sensationalism.
of Foreign Affairs
The history of
dance in Greece goes back to 1000 B.C. Dance has played a
major role in the life of Greeks all through their history. The
dance tradition of Greece was disseminated to Europe where it
became accentuated with elements of theatre and ballet. The
Greek dance is combined with unique forms of cultural
expression, music and poetry, each claiming its unique identity
and significance in the ensemble of an integrated dance
pp1004‑1006 of William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray,
History of Greek Music
The Byzantine Empire is
the term conventionally used to describe the Greek-speaking
Eastern Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its
may be defined as a multi-ethnic empire that emerged as a
Christian empire, soon comprised the Hellenized empire of the
East and ended its thousand year history, in
Greek Orthodox state. Its main constituent parts
besides Greece were the
Asia Minor which contained an overwhelmingly large Greek
population. Ethnic minorities and sizeable communities of
heretics often lived on or near the borderlands, the
Armenians being the only sizeable one.
Egyptians oriented themselves
around the universe of stars and sought to be in harmony with
the changing night sky. The stage is thus believed to have
represented the sun and thus the choral movements around
it, would be the movements of the celestial bodies. Moses, after
the crossing of the Red Sea, bade the children of Israel dance.
David danced before the Ark of the Covenant. The Greeks through
their dance sought the beauty of harmonized movements of healthy
bodies and to tell the glorious stories of the dancing gods.
musical instruments were well developed and varied. They
included string instruments such as harps, lyres, lutes,
percussion instruments like drums, rattles, tambourines, bells
(first used during the Late Period) and cymbals (Roman Period),
wind instruments like flutes, clarinets, double pipes, trumpets,
Egyptian Musical Instruments
Castanets, were used in
Greece, essentially the same as those of Spain today; also flat
sticks in pairs, like clappers, but which unlike clappers were
gripped between the thumb and fingers. Little cymbals on the
dancers' hands sometimes added their voice, and the tambourine
was popular. The variety of these time-marking instruments
indicates knowledge of the many effects attainable by tempo
|Cymbals (about 4 in.) and
double flute. (British Museum.)
|Greek dancer with
castanets. (British Museum.
|Music was an important part
of education in ancient Greece, and boys were taught music
starting at age six. Greek musical literacy created a flowering
of development; Greek music theory included the Greek musical
modes, eventually became the basis for Western religious music
and classical music. Due to Rome's reverence for Greek culture,
Roman music continued to use the Greek notational system.
Despite the change from quantitative to tonic
prosody, the ancient Greek rhythmical formations live on in
modem Greek folk melody. The researches of Professors
Thrasyvoulos Georgiadis and Samuel Baud-Bovy demonstrate that
the 7/ 8 time, found throughout Greece, in none other than the
heroic hexameter in which the Homeric epics were recited.
reed instrument. Archeological finds indicate that it could
be either single-reeded, like a
clarinet, but more usually double-reeded, like an
which could be mastered by any aristocrat with sufficient
leisure to practice it, the aulos was an instrument chiefly
associated with professional musicians, often slaves. Female
aulos-players were a fixture of Greek drinking parties [Symposiums],
and male and female aulos players often doubled as
More about instruments
|Much of modern dance with its
de-emphasis of couple dancing and elevation of violent
movement, group participation, and stress on individual
expression appears to share these traits with Greco-Roman dance.
|Dancing in ancient Greece
closely connected with religion: Plato thought that all
dancing should be based on religion, as it was among the
Egyptians. The dances of the Chorus at Sparta and in other Doric
states were intimately connected with the worship of Apollo, In
all the public festivals, which were so numerous among the
Greeks, dancing formed a very prominent part. The religious
dances, with the exception of the Bacchic and the Corybantian,
were very simple, and consisted of gentle movements of the body
with various turnings and windings around the altar.
Plutarch's "Banquet Topics" (90 AD), Lucian's "Dialogue on Dance"
(160 AD), Athenaeus' "Deipnosophistae" (
and Nonnus' "Dionysiaca" (500 AD)
as well as many of the earlier giants of philosphy like Pythagoras,
Plato and Aristotle all wrote about dance. The Greeks are credited
with inventing a theory of dance
Homer: It is frequently mentioned in the Homeric
poems, such that the suitors of
Penelope delight themselves with music and dancing while waiting
Odysseus to return.
Homer makes Apollo orchestes, or the dancer; and amongst the early
dances is that in his honour called the Hyporchema.
Pythagoras made a period of
dancing a part of the daily routine of his pupils
Socrates urged it upon his
pupils. Physicians of the time of Aristophanes prescribed its
rhythmic exercise for many ailments.
Plato said that dancing (orchesis)
was the instinctive desire to explain
words by gestures of the entire
body and "for the acquisition of noble, harmonious, and graceful attitudes."
Aristotle said that “art is the mimesis of nature”
Imitation, then, is one instinct of our nature. Next, there is
the instinct for 'harmony' and rhythm, meters being manifestly
sections of rhythm.
gave it an important place in the training of youth,
military and otherwise. Among the special dances whose teaching
he decreed, was one, the Hormos, that was traditionally
performed without clothing.
tells of a protest against the nudity of the women. The
Law-giver of Athens replied: "I wish them [the women] to perform
the same exercises as men, that they may equal men in strength,
health, virtue and generosity of soul, and that they may learn
to despise the opinion of the vulgar."
--"The military dance was an indefinable stimulus which inflamed
courage and gave strength to persevere in the paths of honour
In many of the Greek states the art of dancing
was carried to great perfection by females, who were frequently
engaged to add to the pleasures and enjoyment of men at their
symposia. These dancers, for whatever reason, are always belonged to the hetaerae as a
courtesan or high-class prostitute. Among evidence cited
describing a mimetic dance which was represented at a symposium,
where Socrates was present. It was performed by a maiden and a
youth, and represented the loves of Dionysus and Ariadne.
In addition the skilled musicians who performed at symposiums
are also always described in the academic literature as being
prostitutes as well. The evidence does not seem so certain to
danced when the grapes were pressed, and imitated the gathering and
pressing. The Anteisterios danced when the wine was vatted, and the Bahilicos, danced to the sistrus, cymbals, and
tambour, often degenerated into orgies.