Did it originate before the rise of the great classical music? Or did the idea get born from something else, or were these two ideas combined into one?
The answer is difficult. In fact, it is probably all of the above.
Before our very eyes, early dances like dance-in-the-field and pantomime music are found in almost all of the ancient Greek and Roman poems. In fact, pantomimes were so well established in the classical world that the poet Hesiod wrote his famous ‘Elegies to the Kings of the Earth’ for the king Hylas in 500BC. We also encounter poems including dance, the origin of which has been lost to us (though probably there were several sources of this). For example, a popular ballad from the 5th century would have included the words: ‘the King of Tyre danced before the banquet table’. If you had any doubt as to what it was, here are the words: ‘His lords danced before him’, ‘the people danced’ and ‘they danced for love’.
The origins of dance are more complex than this. First off, we need to get down to some history. The Egyptians first performed dance in the form of khet, (sometimes translated as ‘droll’) which is usually a reference to men and a kind of theatrical comedy, but also as a dance to a song. Later, in pre-Islamic times, the performance was carried on as part of a ritual. It has been estimated that more than 6,000 years old, khet was developed in pre-Islamic Arabia to be a part of the religious and spiritual practices of a particular tribe or family. In the 4th century BCE, this tribe performed a ritual dance called the ‘pilaf,’ which involved chanting a song.
According to the pre-Islamic sources, dancing is a divine act, performed by ‘the gods’ (usually referred to as the sun, moon and rivers). A dance was also performed in the afterlife, by returning ‘the dead’ back to their ‘place.’ As far back as 1st century BCE, the prophet Paul wrote: ‘. . . I saw dancing that the Lord did to Aaron that he and his wife might celebrate it together.’
The earliest records from China and Japan are of dancing as both a religious event, called kenju or ‘guitar dance,’ and, at times in the form of a game, where contestants had to knock each other off their feet until
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