Dance Around the World: Ancient Egypt

by Sarah Friswell

This month, we travel across the globe and back in time to Ancient Egypt, where dancing was a major player in many traditional activities and in everyday life.

Photo Credit: Dance and Dancers in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, dancing was used in a number of different ways. Farmers would dance and give thanks to their gods when they had good harvests. Women would dance in groups after dinners as entertainment. Dancing was done at funeral processions by men wearing reed head-dresses. It was even accepted for both men and women to be professional dancers.

Women that danced usually wore only a belt of woven and beaded material around their waist.  This made it easier for them to move and dance freely with no inhibitions.  They also danced with weighted braids that were depicted being swung back and forth.  Although we may view this nudity as erotic or sexual, ancient Egyptians did not view the naked body in the same way that our culture does today. These women were described as elegant, graceful and acrobatic in their dancing.

It is unknown how much training and what type of training went into learning ancient Egyptian dance, although it is assumed that the dancers started to learn at a young age in order to master their craft. Art in tombs and monuments in Egypt clearly depicts figures dancing, leaping, turning, bending and twisting, which shows how widely accepted dancing was.

Dance and Dancers in Ancient Egypt written by Marie Parsons shows how scholars have broken down the types of ancient Egyptian dance into groups. They include dance purely for dance's sake, gymnastic dance, imitative dance, group dance, pair dancing, war dance, dramatic dance, lyrical dance, grotesque dance, funeral dancing and religious dance.

Unfortunately today, most of what we know about ancient Egyptian dance is what we have learned from temple murals and pictures. A depiction of the dance poses can be seen in this clip of archeao-choreology called "The Rite of the House of the Morning".  Researchers carefully studied Egyptian artifacts and art for three years to create this piece.  They maintain that it is in no way a replica of ancient Egyptian dance, only "a tableau of poses found in the art & artifacts, the beliefs, ceremonies, and symbolism of their sacred texts".

Hopefully as more information is uncovered, more light will be shed on this beautiful ancient art form. Until then, we can only hypothesize about dance and its use in ancient Egypt.

A little more about dance and music in ancient Egypt can be found at Ancient Egypt: Music and Dance. 

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