Western dancers demonstrated an unwavering willingness, even eagerness, to embrace new vehicles for their dancing.
The peoples of the West—Europe and the countries established as a result of permanent European colonization elsewhere—have a history of dance marked by tremendous variety and fast development. Whereas most Eastern dancers reproduced highly polished patterns of movement that had stayed essentially unaltered for decades or millennia, Western dancers demonstrated an unwavering willingness, even eagerness, to embrace new vehicles for their dancing.
According to the oldest sources, western dance appears to have always included an immense diversity of communal or ceremonial dances, social dances enjoyed by many different levels of society, and skilled theatrical dances that followed unique but often overlapping paths of development. The article folk art delves more into the distinct nature, techniques, forms, and functions of each of these types of Western dance and the historical evolution of each. Furthermore, the article dance discusses the aesthetics and many kinds of dance, both Western and non-Western.
The West cannot always be readily separated from the non-West, particularly in nations such as Russia either different parts of the former Soviet Union, where specific dances are Asian in origin and character while others are European. This article focuses on Western peoples’ dancing, acknowledging the impact of other cultures when relevant. Before written records were left, there was a long period during which academics may only guess.
The discovery of dancelike forms in cave paintings in Spain and France has led to the hypothesis that religious ceremonies and attempts to influence events through sympathetic magic were primary motives for ancient dance. Observation of primitive peoples’ dances in the modern world has bolstered such hypotheses. However, the relationship between ancient and contemporary “primitives” is far from recognized by many researchers.
If the dances documented in early written records continued old dances, there might have also been prehistoric work dances, war dances, and sexual couple and group dances. Historians believe that the Bavarian-Austrian Schuhplattler, a pair dance that survived until the twentieth century, is of Neolithic origin, dating back before 3000 BC.