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Form: Gr. orchesis, Lat. saltatio.
As early as the Homeric age we find dancing an object of artistic cultivation among the Greeks. The sons and daughters of princes and nobles do not disdain to join in it, whether in religious festivals or at social gatherings. The Greek orchestike, or art of dancing, differed much from the modern. Its aim was to ennoble bodily strength and activity with grace and beauty. Joined with music and poetry, dancing among the Greeks embodied the very spirit of the art of music, mainly because the imitative element predominated in it. For its main aim was to make gesture represent feeling, passion and action; and consequently the Greek dance was an exercise riot only for the feet, but for the arms, hands and the whole body. The art at first observed the limits of a noble simplicity, but was perfected, as time went on, in many directions. At the same time it inevitably tended to become more artificial. As in athletics, so in imitative dancing, mechanical execution was largely developed. This was to a great extent displayed in exhibitions of scenes from the mythology, which formed a favourite entertainment at banquets. On the other hand, a prejudice arose against dancing on the part of any one but professionals. For a grown-up person to perform a dance, even at social entertainments, was regarded as an impropriety. The religious performances, especially, as bound up with the worship of Apollo and Dionysus, consisted mainly in choral dances, whose movement varied according to the character of the god and of the festival. Sometimes it was a solemn march round the altar, sometimes a livelier measure, in which there was a strong dash of imitation. This was especially the case at the festivals of Dionysus. It was from these, as is well known, that the Greek draina was developed, and accordingly the dances formed a part of all dramas, varying according to the character of the piece (see CHORUS). Indeed, there was an infinite variety in the forms of the Greek dance. Not only had almost every country district its own, but foreign ones were in course of time adopted. It must be noticed that in Greek society grown-up men and women were not allowed to dance together, but there were some dances which were performed together by the youth of both sexes. Among these was the Hormos, or chain-dance, performed by youths and maidens, holding their hands in a changing line, the youths moving in warlike measure, the girls with grace and softness. Another was the Geranos, or Crane. This dance was peculiar to Delos, and was said to have been first performed by Theseus after his deliverance from the Labyrinth, with the boys and girls whom he had rescued. Its elaborate complications were supposed to represent the mazes of the Labyrinth. At Sparta dances were practised, as a means of bodily training, by boys and girls. Among them two may be particularly mentioned: the Caryatis, performed in honour of Artemis of Caryaae, by the richest and noblest Spartan maidens; and the dances of boys, youths and men, at the festival of the Gymnopoedia, consisting in an imitation of various gymnastic exercises (see CARYATIDES). Among the Greek country dances was the Epilenioss, or dance of the wine-press, which imitated the actions of gathering and pressing the grape. There were also warlike dances, which were specially popular with the Dorians, and, like others, were partly connected with religious worship. One of the most celebrated of these was the Pyrrhiche (see PYRRHIC DANCE). Roman. Dancing never played such a part in the national life of the Romans as it did in that of the Greeks. It is true that the ancient Roman worship included dances of the priests (see SALII), and that the lower orders in the country were fond of dancing on festive occasions. But respectable Romans regarded it as inconsistent with their dignity. After the second Punic War, as Greek habits made their way into Italy, it became the fashion for young men and girls of the upper class to take lessons in dancing and singing. But dancing was never adopted in Rome as a necessary and effective instrument of education, nor was there any time when public dancing was allowed in society. Performances by professional artists, however (the longer the better), were a favourite entertainment, especially during the imperial period, when the art of mimic dancing attained an astonishing degree of perfection.
Type: Standard
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