Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 23, 2020

Evolution of dance from dirty waltzing to grinding

By Julie Dischell | November 1, 2007

The phrase "the evolution of dance" will always remind me of one thing and one thing only.

During my senior year of high school, we were planning this huge conference for student councils from schools across the country. It was all the administrators talked about.

One night we had a lock-in to get us pumped for it and they brought in a motivational speaker named Judson Laipply.

While his show was hilarious, the best part was the finale: The evolution of dance. On our dinky little stage, there he was, this man of at least 30, performing songs from our childhood and our parents' childhoods. It was an experience none of us would ever or could ever forget, considering it is now the most-watched video on YouTube.

While I could tell you to simply go watch the video and my work would be done here, there is much more to the evolution of dance than the hits of the last five decades.

Dancing is basically using movement as a means of expression. Almost any form can be considered dance.

There are those that are generally accepted, of course, such as ballet, ballroom, tap and jazz, but what about gymnastics, figure skating, martial arts, fencing and sex?

The criteria for qualifying as dance are broader than those of qualifying as a sport. Dance can mean so many things. It can be social, ceremonial, cooperative, competitive, religious, erotic, interpretive, etc. Essentially, dance is what you make it.

It is impossible to say when dance officially began. Archaeological evidence in the forms of cave and tomb paintings shows us that dancing has been a part of human civilization since at least 3,000 years before the Common Era. People used different forms of dance in their religious rituals and as a way to tell stories.

The rhythm required in dancing is a basic element of music, and it's natural to lose oneself in the intoxicating, rhythmic movement created by dance. In his epic the Iliad, Homer describes a type of ancient Greek dancing called chorea in which the performers would honor a god. There would also be drunken erotic dancing in Greece after harvesting the grapes in the name of Dionysus.

In Egypt, the priests and priestesses would perform stately movements that mimed significant events in the story of a god, or alternatively they would imitate cosmic patterns such as the rhythm of night and day.

It was also very common for people to dance at funerals to express the grief of the mourners.

Dance did not truly become a form of entertainment until the advent of ballet, beginning with the influence of Catherine de Medici.

In 1581, the first dramatic ballet was produced for her: "Ballet Comique de la Reine" by her director of court festivals. The French and Italian love for dance continued for centuries, resulting in the creation of more ballets and even schools of dance such as l'Académie Royale de Danse and l'Académie Royale de Musique, which together formed the famed Paris Opéra, which is still in existence today.

The waltz was also introduced at about this time. It was all the rage in the 16th century. However, some people found all of its gliding and whirling movements undignified, leading the church to ban it in certain parts of Germany.

The waltz was the first dance that truly stood for freedom of expression and freedom of movement, opening the door for all sorts of dancing.

The waltz laid the groundwork for new dances in the 20th century such as the tango, the jitterbug, the twist, boogie, swing and disco.

America was looking toward foreign lands for new beats and movements in the 20th century, and found them in the South American and African styles of dance.

Today, a wide variety of dance styles are acceptable. Ballet always retains major popularity as do swing and tango dancing.

Here at Hopkins you can join clubs in which you can learn all three. There are also places to learn the moves of newer styles like break dancing and pole dancing.

I would be inclined to tell you that I'm a horrible dancer, but with all the different styles out there, it would be a major feat to be incapable of all of them. I might not be able to work the ballroom, but a frat party? Now that's a different story.

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