Ancient Egyptian Dance Steps

Written by jennifer moore
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Ancient Egyptian Dance Steps
Ancient Egyptian dance (dancer image by Steve Johnson from Fotolia.com)

According to an article "An Introduction to the History and Culture of Pharaonic Egypt," written by Andre Dollinger, we know that dance, singing and musical instrument playing were essential parts of life in Egypt. Egyptians were a joyous people celebrating life, and used dance frequently to demonstrate this joy. Proof can be corroborated through ancient Roman writings, and from dance depictions still located within ancient tombs, palaces and ceremonial buildings.

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Dance Occasions

Proof exists that dance was an important part of Egyptian life even as far back as in the Old Kingdom era. Murals and paintings demonstrate that dance was used as a social form of communication, but that the most important type of dance was done in religious rituals. We know the Egyptian religion required many elaborate and exacting rituals and that the most important of these were performed out of public view. So the best and most talented dancers were actually never seen by ordinary Egyptians.

Choreography

Most dance pieces were gender oriented, meaning all female or all male dancers. Mixed gender dancing was not introduced until late in the Roman Empire, long after Egypt stopped being a focal point for the world.

Based on information gleaned from murals, paintings and hieroglyphs, archaeologists believe Egyptian choreography was quite complex. Dance steps where created by either a high standing noble or an experienced priestess or priest with years of training. These pieces were coordinated for several dancers at a time, where they would work together in rhythm and movements were synchronised, but remained fluid.

Specific dances were planned and organised for certain deities, or a certain type of dancer was used when dancing for a particular god. Often the dance would start slow and then tempo would change and the dance would be choreographed to be more active and even frenzied with exotic movements.

Dancers' Social Rank

Dance troupes were either all male or all female and the greatest of these groups were the religious dancers. Young women and later young men were chosen from high Egyptian social classes to be a part of these troupes. They dedicated their entire lives to dancing for the gods, eventually becoming priestesses or priests, who would train other younger dance troupes to revere the gods. These qualified and special dancers rarely danced in public. Those that performed at celebrations or banquets were usually servant women or members of the household harem from the nobleman's house where the celebration took place.

Influences

At one time, Egypt was a great nation and conquered or was occupied by other countries. This influenced the Egyptian arts in many ways. For instance, Egyptians admired Nubian women and their traditional dance. Many believe Egyptian dancing was greatly influenced by these dancers who were brought from the south just to be admired for their dancing ability. Asiatic influences can also be seen in later periods of Egypt, brought about by the invasion of Hyskos around 1700 B.C.

Dance Steps

According to an article written by Scheffel from the University of North Carolina, "Egyptian Dance: A History and Analysis of its Origin," dances were expressive and involved dancing similar to that of the modern belly dance. Other dance steps resembling those of gymnastics and movements similar to today's modern ballet. Images found on murals demonstrate dancers doing cartwheels, back-bends and splits. In these dances, the same movement was performed by several participants in a synchronised and harmonious manner. Pictures of social banquets show that girls would probably start with slow elegant steps and then alternate with wild acrobatic movements.

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