Dance is an ancient art. Probably even one of the first arts (if not THE first!). It has been known for a long time that prehistoric men and women already practiced it. If we know that they knew it, it’s partly thanks to the many cave paintings depicting dancing characters. But they practiced it a long time before they could represent them, because dance requires only the body as an instrument, unlike other arts (singing is also an exception, but is closely linked to dance in a certain way …).
They did this for several reasons, the main ones often suspected to be: to give themselves courage and impress possible enemies or to communicate with higher entities. In fact, the appearance of secular dance is often placed well after the sacred dance, generally with the appearance of Antiquity. However, this distinction is probably more blurred than one might think.
Many researchers have attested to have actually observed in certain animals in their natural environment “rhythmic body movements”, without will of communication because sometimes practiced in a solitary way, and which did not correspond to any other explanation than this one, very simple: they also dance. The first dances therefore perhaps had no other goal than to be a pleasant entertainment in the first place.
So dancing is something much more universal than is generally thought. But that’s not quite what we’re going to be interested in here. Dance is a “free” art, it only asks, as we’ve seen, to have a body and to be able to move it in space and time. It’s only since very recently, with the appearance of cameras that allow us to take photos and especially videos, that it’s possible to see a dance differently than in reality. It’s a small miracle to which we no longer pay attention.
Our ancestors had to be physically present to admire a beautiful dance. And as for practicing it, the whole body must necessarily be summoned. Even today, on some beaches, it’s enough for someone to play a guitar tune for strangers to gather and start dancing freely. And more significantly, people still gather on certain dates to dance in the street, sometimes around a fire, always with a fairly large amount of music. This is the case, for example, of the feast of St. John (originally celebrated as the Summer Solstice), which has even become in France the festival of music, during which one meets with friends in the streets, closed to vehicles for the occasion, to dance all night long.
Dance is everywhere. It is of course always at the Opera, where you can for money, admire the prowess of the étoiles. But in certain contexts it can also be found on the Opera square, during social movements, when the dance of these same dancers became a demonstration of their political protest during strikes. The dances are often also present in carnivals, village fairs and other celebrations, local or larger, sometimes even at the heart of games (even board or video games!). Organized or spontaneously arising, these dances are just as captivating.
Micro-societies, whether they are created ephemerally for the duration of a festival or are more durable, always leave a lot of room for dance. Always free of charge, it often takes the form of a gift, which one offers oneself as a dancer, but also to one’s dance partners and to all those who will be able to enjoy watching it. Dancing as a gift reminds us of the very official dances of the Kwakiutl Nations, who consider dancing for someone is one of the most beautiful gifts one can give. Receiving a dance or being able to offer a quality dance was considered to be a great richness, with tangible value. It was found for example during the Potlatsch, which has already been mentioned in the article “Mauss, gift and society”. One cannot help but think also of the dance that Salome offers to Herod to obtain the head of John the Baptist on a platter in exchange. But also perhaps to this sensual dance, or to the strip tease, that lovers can offer each other in intimacy?
So dance has many facets. It can be a pure and mysterious gift, or a precious and rare currency. And its capacity to become one or the other is all the more interesting because it always begins by being the entertainment of the one who dances.
Dance as much as you can and see you soon!