human society. It is an art form, a social activity, a type of communication, and a form of recreation. People can dance by themselves, in couples, or in large groups. The dance can be spontaneous or
performed in established movements. It can tell a story, explore an emotion, or serve as a form of
self-expression. Many people dance as a career, but anyone can dance simply by moving in rhythm. Dance is among the oldest human art forms. Dancing extends beyond the human species itself. For example, many animals perform complex dances during courtship.
Dance differs from other kinds of rhythmic movement, such as dribbling a basketball, because in
dance the movement itself is the goal of the activity. Music usually accompanies dance, providing the rhythm, tempo, and mood for the movements.
In modern societies, many people enjoy dancing simply for entertainment. Each generation creates
new dances as an expression of its own sense of life and fun. For example, rock dancing arose about
1960 with the popularity of rock music. This type of dance was created primarily by and for young people. Rock dances such as the twist did not require partners to touch each other while they
danced. The dancing was free-spirited and individual, allowing each dancer to create his or her own steps spontaneously. Rock dancing stressed pure emotion underscored by the strong beat of the
Why people dance
Religious reasons. For thousands of years, human beings have danced for religious reasons. Many religions involve some form of dance. Many religious dances are forms of prayer. Believers dance as
they pray for rain, for the fertility of crops, and for success in war or in hunting. Such dances often imitate or pantomime some movement. For example, dancers may imitate the movement of the animal to be hunted, or a hunter's actions in stalking it. They may wear elaborate costumes and
masks or makeup to depict deities or animals.
Religious dance also may attempt to create a state of ecstasy (intense joy) or trance in the
worshiper. Dance may also be used as one part of a religious occasion or ritual. One example is the dancing of Jews at the festival of Simhat Torah. Another example is the dancing and whirling of members of a Muslim religious order called dervishes. Dancing was a formal element in Christian worship until the A.D. 1100's, when religious leaders began to prohibit it because they believed it was too worldly an activity. However, spontaneous dance has become a common element of worship
among some Protestant denominations.
Social reasons. Dancing plays an important role in social functions. All societies have characteristic forms of dance. Such dancing may take place at ceremonial occasions or at informal gatherings.
Like traditional foods and costumes, dance helps members of a nation or ethnic group recognize their connection to one another and to their ancestors. By dancing together, members of a group express
their sense of common identity or belonging.