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We Dance for the Stories
By Brianna Duff
I have been a dancer nearly my whole life. With every class I took, from ballet to jazz to hip-hop, I was always told to think of the reasons behind the choreography and to put specific and related emotion into my movement. Nothing was without purpose in dance, and part of our lessons was to always tell the story we thought belonged.
During my freshman year of college, I decided to start taking ballroom lessons and the idea of the story within a dance changed. The traditional dances of the ballroom world didn’t needed invented emotions the way we thought to portray them. Each dance had been passed down through the years as a kind of fable–the story of the movement was inherent and it was your job to pick up where the last dancer left off, be the amatory game of the strong male and his coquettish partner in the rumba or the sweeping love story of the waltz.
Though ballroom dance is easily recognizable thanks to shows like Dancing With the Stars or movies set in the world of Jane Austen, cultural dance reaches across the world in a wide number of traditional forms used for story telling. You are probably familiar with Native American dance, where each dance is considered a prayer and as such, is usually forbidden to be seen by anyone outside the tribe. You are also probably familiar with Hawaii hula dancing, which describes stories about the islands and is used as an expression of religious belief.
But did you know:
In India, there are eight styles of traditional dance, as well as separated dances that are used for various religious festivals and can be traced back to the year 400 B.C.?
In Australia, bush dancing, which is similar to line dancing in that all dancers known certain steps and execute them together, draws upon the cultures that have settled on the continent (primarily the English, Scottish, and Irish) to create a unique folk dancing style only celebrated down-under?
In Asia, dance preceded written language in 4,000 B.C. as ways to communicate, even on pottery? And that there were two types of dance in early Chinese history? Civilian dances had performers that held feathered banners in their hands, which symbolized the giving out of the fruits of the day’s hunting. Military dances had performers that carried weapons and who moved in front to back coordination so much in the style of a military formation that these dances were later translated into military exercises.
In Mexico, there are a number of popular traditional dances, from the danza de los viejitos (dance of the little old men) to the conchero dancers to the sword dancers, the latter of whom dance with tall headdresses and shake gourd rattles and painted swords?
These dances, still popular generations after they were first performed, tell the stories of the cultures that bore them. They tie so particularly to religious traditions that it is difficult to find a religion that does not hold dance in high esteem (except perhaps European and American Christianity). And they relate so strongly to the culture as a whole that is has become commonplace to see dancers in costume on travel brochures and grand presentations during the Olympic opening ceremonies. It is a kind of identity. And by passing these dances on, it keeps the history alive and allows children of the next generation to experience the same kind of expressions and fables as their parents and grandparents told before them.