Dance is considered the movement of the body as a way of human expression. Most people regard dance as simply a physical movement, but dance has many underlying values and meanings. Dance is a critical aspect in human cultures socially and artistically. All around the world, dance portrays stories, symbolizes relationships, depicts emotion, and social rituals. By studying dance, anthropologists can understand the diverse meanings of dance in contemporary societies and how humans interact and communicate through dance. Dance is a learned practice and is constantly evolving to show the cultural structure of the time. It can be used for entertainment, courtship, religion, politics, health, healing, and education.
Dance communicates messages. It evokes the involvement of senses and the motion of dance attracts the attention of the audience. Dance conveys visually and auditorily which helps people stay engaged and focused on the message. For example, in Nigeria, dance conveys the roles of women as mothers and men as warriors. The body movements can convey passivity, aggression, fertility, and societal hierarchies. Among the Ubakala Igbo in Nigeria, warriors are categorized by tense, rapid dance movements involving lunges and slashes. In contrast, mothers are defined by their slower dance movements involving movement of hips and circular motions.
Dance is its own language with different movements symbolizing different ideas. However, unlike typical verbal language, dance is more poetic and artistic, sometimes leaving its message up to the audience to interpret. In dance, similarly to in verbal language, syntax or the order of phrases conveys different messages. Furthermore, dance is not just random movement. In order to quantify physical movement as dance, it must follow certain rules, patterns, or rhythms. Even modern-day freestyle dancing must incorporate sequences of movement in a coherent way to be considered dancing. Dance conveys meaning based off of its context and can often have multiple meanings and symbols. Similarly to language, dance has different dialects revealed through different styles. For example, classical ballet and Kabuki, a traditional Japanese dance, are going to convey differently to the audience.
Dance can show different meanings depending on the culture. For example, different types of partner dances can demonstrate male domination and patriarchy in certain countries, but in other countries, it can symbolize female empowerment and male subordination. Another example in which dance conveys different meanings is the movement of women’s hips in certain styles of dance such as belly dancing, salsa, and African dancing. In some cultures, this movement is marked as vulgar and improper, whereas, in others it shows female confidence and strength.
Overall, studying dance reveals so much new information about cultures and provides insight into the communication and life of people across the globe. By studying the history and context of modern styles such as hip-hop and ballet, social styles such as foxtrot and samba, and traditional styles such as Bharatanatyam and the dragon dance, anthropologist are able to uncover newfound information about cultures and societies. In this blog I look forward to studying different styles of dances and comparing them as a means to analyze cultural differences and similarities.