Have you ever wondered how dance began? How did it manage to evolve and integrate to form an identity of its own and even redefine cultures? If these questions appeal to your imagination, this is the series for you!
Welcome to the new series DANCE||CULTURE! In this series, we will be delving into the culture of the various dances and how they evolve to this day. There will be tidbits and interesting stories to go around, so stick around to find out more! (You might just found out something you didn’t know about some dance genres!) So let’s just dive right into the origins of dance, shall we?
So how did dance begin? The first reports are hazy as means of recording were almost non-existent then, but researchers theorized that dance as an expression could have “developed as early as speech and language” and most definitely when people “were painting on cave walls, making clay figurines and decorating their bodies with ornaments”.
In fact, the earliest probable evidence of dance dated back to the Paleolithic days 9,000 years ago tattooing the walls of the Bhimbetka rock shelters in India and Egyptian Tomb paintings from as far back as c.3300 BC that depicted dancing figures… That’s really long ago!
Serving a ritualistic and communal purpose, traces of dance could even be found in documents dating from ancient civilisations across the world, particularly in agricultural communities across Asia and Europe .
From rituals to honour the gods in Ancient Greece to intimidating the enemy through Haka (a form of war dance) by the Māori, it was pretty clear that dance is capable of evoking various intense emotions in us and it was too addicting to stop.
Fast forward to today, and you will find that dance serves pretty much the same purpose as it did then – to enthrall, entertain and share cultures. Indeed, the popularity of various dances waxes and wanes based on the influence of various cultures.
Take street dance as an example. Originating from New York City in the 1970s, it shot to stardom with the increase in popularity of American media in various parts of the world. Now, street dance is a global culture that bonds dancers from different backgrounds and countries.
One such dancer is Koharu Sugawara, who broke boundaries with her unique style. Born in Japan, she went on to take over the dance scene as an international performer.
Bringing it closer to home, when Singapore was still a fledgling colony, many people from different cultures came to Singapore to make a living, and these are the ones that brought along their own traditional dances, which now evolved into the pillars of our very own cultural dances such as Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Chinese dance.
Even now, it is still changing. The onset of media from the rest of Asia and America, KPOP and Street dance are some of the few more popular dances now. But of course, that will be another whole article on its own. (do comment below if you would like to know more about this too!)
No one truly knows when do dance begin, maybe it is already ingrained in us as a physical expression of our innate nature, a raw depiction of our perspective. But we know it is something that binds and draws people and cultures together and makes this world a more joyful place to live.
Ending off today’s article is a quote from Charles Davis: “ To understand the culture, study the dance. To understand the dance, study the people.” Clearly, we can’t do one without the other, for origins and history make up both culture and dance.
Next month, we will be touching on one of the major strongholds in global dance culture – Ballet! If you are a current dancer or a ballet fanatic (like I am), you will definitely LOVE the next episode in the series.