Dance is the art of moving the body usually to a beat, rhythm or music. Many cultures around the world perform dance as a form of emotional expression, exercise, idea expression, or story telling in either a social, spiritual or performance environment. Dance can also be considered non-verbal communication between humans, animals or insects such as the movement patterns in mating rituals typically called “mating dances.”
What defines or constitutes dance depends on accepted cultural and social norms and on artistic, aesthetic and moral standards. The definition of dance can range from virtuoso techniques such as the ballet to functional movement (such as folk dance or ball room dance). There is also martial arts kata that’s compared to dance, and some sports such as figure skating, synchronized swimming or gymnastics. Inanimate objects such as the wind through leaves or the tides of the ocean could also be considered a form of dance.
Dance happens in many forms and has many styles and genres. There are classical dance styles such as the tango or the waltz, group dance routines such the electric slide or square dancing, there is street dancing such as break dancing or flash-mob, interpretive dance such as that in Africa or the Ballet to mention a few. The reason for the act of dancing can vary as well; it can be for ceremonial, social, for exercise, for entertainment in front of an audience, participatory, to tell a story or just for fun. The dance moves themselves can be random without significant meaning or have symbolic meaning or represent unspoken words as part of a story or performance.
It is not really possible to determine when dance became part of human culture because it does not leave behind any physical attributes like cave paintings, stone tools or ancient hunting instruments do. However, as far back in recorded history as we can understand, dance has been an important part of human culture for rituals, ceremony, celebrations, entertainment, story telling and tradition. There are even Bhimbetka paintings in India and Egyptian tomb paintings dating back as far as 3300 BC depicting figures dancing. Of some of the oldest methods of dance were those used to tell stories of myths. Dance was likely also used to express feelings towards the opposite sex and for mating rituals before spoken or written language had developed, not unlike the dance rituals that animals still perform today. Dance was also used to pass down stories from generation to generation before the use of writing. Other uses for dance may have been as a way to enter trance states to perform healing rituals. This form of dance as a precursor for healing rituals is still used in many cultures today.
Contemporary dance can be linked to dance historical dance moves of ancient times and many dance moves that are considered new and fresh are actually recycled dance moves with different choreography. So as long as people exist and for whatever reason the act dance is performed, dance will go on as an important part of human culture.