The Love of Dance and The Dance of Love

By Rachel Hartdegend

From the dawn of history dance has always provided a medium of communicating emotions and thoughts between both animals and humans alike. Dance provides an avenue of expression and communication that is instinctively understood - even at the most basic level. In the animal kingdom, almost every species performs a particular form of dance in order to communicate their desire to mate, warn others of imminent danger while establishing foraging areas and to define territorial supremacy.

Throughout the ages dance has acted as a repository for physical pleasure; however, in some cultures dance has been used as a medium for altering a person's state of consciousness. In some ancient societies, shamans believed that a dance-induced trance could open portals to an ethereal world where they could obtain the knowledge required to provide treatment for mental and physical afflictions within their tribes.

Ancient history is rife with documentation of how dance was used as a precursor to romantic attachment; Records outline incidents where a sometimes intricate and evocative dance was performed in order to promote fertility of not only the land but also the female species. Prior to the onset of Christianity in Rome, pagans dedicated certain days and, in some cases, entire weeks to adoration of the gods - and dance always played a prominent role.

In modern day society dance still plays an important role in defining cultural and social situations. From carefully choreographed ballet moves to the reckless abandon of Rap, dance is still one of the most popular outlets for expressing cultural ideologies. This is what makes it so difficult to actually define and compartmentalize dance. Regardless of whether it consists of functional movements associated with folk dancing or the detailed precision of ballroom dancing, the communication aspect of movement accompanied by music has always garnered universal acceptance.

Music, and by default dance, has been instrumental in establishing a cohesive identity between people of varying ethnic backgrounds. By the inter-fusion of various black, white and mulatto cultures, Latin dances like the cha cha, Rumba, Samba, Salsa, Mambo and others have been very successful in creatively creating a fusion that equally combines the various cultural identities of both Spanish and Afro-Cuban elements.

As a medium to promote romance, dance is almost always performed as a kind of choreography based language – one that has been instrumental throughout history and within varying social background as a means of introducing and encouraging inter-relationships between interested parties.

In the early twentieth century dance began to assimilate qualities that expressed individuality in conjunction with traditional ritual and religious themes while still retaining the primitive, expressive and often emotional undertones of the art itself. Modern dance grew exponentially under the guise of creative freedom in that many genres of expression that were once frowned upon by civilized society now were considered as an acceptable art form.

In the past forty to fifty years, traditional walls of propriety have been scaled so that modern dance is now an expression that encompasses simplicity, beauty and sophistication – often within the same dance movements. What is now known as contemporary dance has retained its technical and, in some cases political, connotations while exuberantly embracing a competitive, artistic atmosphere which has progressed to productions that stress expertise, strength, flexibility and beauty.

This creative licence has greatly contributed to the expansion of a form of creative movement called street dance. Based on expressing and encouraging individuality and originality, street dancing lends itself to an interpretation of moves designed to portray a freedom of personal style that is unparalleled in the history of traditional dance. In recent years the development of strictly choreographed moves has led to the improvisation of street dance and its acceptance as a viable art form which has enabled this creative and expressive movement to be assimilated by many other styles of dance.

The correlation between dance and romance has always been a strong component in its inception and production. A particular dance, like ballet, is often performed to portray a sense of subtle intimacy, while rappers and rockers tend to stick to moves that, although a little more vulgar in their makeup, still encourage a duality between diverse people.

As an art-form dance is constantly evolving both in its intensity and its value as a communication device. As newer, more risqué dance moves become developed and accepted there is still a growing appreciation for the more traditional, partner based dance moves, such as those exhibited in ballroom dancing.

The renewing interest in the various forms of dancing from traditional to modernistic is evident with celebrities appearing on televised shows that promote dance as an artistic and energetic competition and is rapidly attaining popularity between old and young alike.

From ancient and primitive art depictions on pottery excavated from sites that date back thousand of years to televised portrayals of inter-twining cultures, dance has always had an immediate and contemporary meaning and has historically been employed as an artistic, intrinsic and authentic documentation of interpersonal relationships within a particular society.

In the overall evolutionary scheme of the universe, humans may be considered newcomers; yet it seems that from the advent of man self expression has always been an integral part of all cultural developments. Some historians believe that dance, and its ability to provide communication modules that require no language, have been a viable way for people to interact and cohabit with each other for many eons.

Dancing has traditionally been a vital element in identifying and lending credence to many cultures. As a means of reflecting various societies throughout history, dance has always maintained an important place in society. By reflecting on the many and varied dance forms throughout history we are able to better comprehend past eras and the people in them. One can only wonder how our present day actions will be interpreted when historians record our method of dance in the coming centuries.