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     Dance and music

Greece and Rome
Middle Ages
16th - 18th century
17th century
18th century
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Dance and music

It is unlikely that any human society (at any rate until the invention of puritanism) has denied itself the excitement and pleasure of dancing. Like cave painting, the first purpose of dance is probably ritual - appeasing a nature spirit or accompanying a rite of passage. But losing oneself in rhythmic movement with other people is an easy form of intoxication. Pleasure can never have been far away.

Rhythm, indispensable in dancing, is also a basic element of music. It is natural to beat out the rhythm of the dance with sticks. It is natural to accompany the movement of the dance with rhythmic chanting. Dance and music begin as partners in the service of ritual.


Drama of a kind is present in the rituals of primitive tribes. While musical instruments provide a compulsive rhythm, and members of the tribe join in a communal dance, there is often also a dramatic figure who is the centre of attention. In mask and costume, strikingly fierce or mysterious, an unseen actor impersonates a spirit which either threatens or secures the fortunes of the tribe.

While such an encounter is undoubtedly dramatic, it does not involve theatre in the conventional sense. Theatre requires the addition of a sung or spoken text - a development which first occurs, like so many others, in ancient Greece.


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