Dance seems to be one of those basic human impulses, like making music or art, that has existed as long as human beings have existed. However, dance history becomes difficult to understand as human movement does not leave behind physical artifacts, unlike cave paintings or bone flutes. However, paintings at the Bhimbetka rock shelter in India and in ancient Egyptian tombs, dated back at least to 3300 BCE, depict humans dancing.
Dance history may begin as part of healing rituals in folk medicine. Dance may have also been used as a part of myth telling in pre-literate societies. Homer's Iliad, which was an oral epic long before it was written down, describes the choreia, an ancient Greek circle dance. Numerous ancient Greek statues exist depicting figures, especially women, in dance poses. Dance history, therefore, can be often understood as ancient aspects of what many classify as folk dancing, a seemingly universal aspect of culture.
Dance history, as recorded, can be traced to the emergence of the modern world. In Europe, for example, the ballet had been well-established before the 18th century. Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century European society was also home to a number of formalized dances, highly choreographed moves, in which men and women participated. It is from both of these traditions that dance history has produced the myriad forms of dancing popular today around the world.
Dance has always been a way in which people express themselves, their ideas, and their cultures. Throughout history, dance has been the one thing that links people of different races, genders, and from different cultures. More than anything else, dance breaks through language barriers and is constantly changing to reflect many different eras and moods. Modern dance is not exception. What we now call modern dance began at the turn of the 20th century and is intrinsically linked to the social changes that our world has undergone. Modern dance, like most dances, is fluid and can be interpreted by many different people who understand what modern dance is and how it is linked to the very essence of what makes humans, human, their culture.
The biggest question when talking about the issue is how does modern dance differ from other forms of dance?
- Modern dance is a rebellion against the strict, rigid forms of ballet and other show dances.
- Modern dance, like modern art is all about expression and experimenting with forms of expression that otherwise were not usually used in dance.
Before modern dance, dancing was rigid. There were certain steps that needed to be followed in a certain order. This type of dancing boxed in a performer into a certain mode. Though beautiful and graceful, it was very hard to express the subtle differences of emotion in ballet. Modern dance opened up new worlds to which expression of moods and ideas were prevalent.
Modern dance developed at the beginning of the 20th century where people were starting to try to find new ways of expressing themselves. There were plenty of new and wonderful ideas out there in the world that were being discovered, from theories in psychology to evolution to planes and automobiles, the world was ever changing and the definition of reality was also changing. Dancers, along with others, began to question things that before had appeared black and white. Modern dance began in the United States and in Germany. Each of the pioneers took the Modern dance and changed it, to show each audience a new look at the reality that they were watching.
- Isadora Duncan
- Loie Fuller
- Ruth St. Denis
- Rudolf von Laban
- Mary Wigman
Modern dance was a dance of improvisation. In the United States, Isadora Duncan was one of the first to implement the new dance. Her focus was to show how certain music made her feel. She chose works from serious composers such as Beethoven and Wagner. She was the most abstract of the American founders. Loie Fuller did not try to portray emotions but more to illustrate nature. She created effects with lighting and costumes that were far beyond her time. Ruth St. Denis brought culture to the dance. She found an interest in ethnic dances and would incorporate them into her dance routine. Some of the dances that she relied on the most came from ideas in the religious dances from Asia, India, Egypt, and Native Americans. Not only did their movements change but these dancers also rebelled against the ideas of sexuality and gender. These women avoided wearing the binding costumes that other dancers would be seen in and were instead prone to where bloomers for the freedom of movement that was needed in their expression. These three would pave the way for those who followed to express themselves and their personalities through dance. The second wave of Modern dance would happen in the late 1920s. It was during this time that the participants would begin to incorporate techniques that expressed human passion and universal social issues. Expression became the main theme of Modern dance, especially those that shocked. Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey developed dances that were so dramatic and harsh that it challenged the idea that dance had to be graceful. These two women focused on the dance itself, always experimenting with sound. Humphrey would perform to no music and incorporated nonmusical effects such as bursts of sound and spoken words. Doris Humphrey also developed innovations that helped define what modern dance was. She came up with the movement vocabulary of "fall and recovery.' She wrote the first book that helped people to choreograph Modern dances. Humphrey was also the first to incorporate the ensemble dancing instead of primarily solo dancing into her choreography. While these two women focused on social issues seriously, Charles Weidman mimed movements were considered comic satire.