Rhythmic body movement has always been instinctive to humans.
The Romans, in 364 B.C.E. were suffering a plague epidemic. In order to rid themselves of the plague, Etruscan dancers were employed. They danced to appease the Gods and advocate for the Romans’ good health.
In 1374, following another plague, the Black Death, choreomania, an unstoppable urge to dance, swept across Germany. Thousands of people danced together, for weeks, entranced by what seemed to be psychological distress.
In 1518, one lady named Frau Troffea began to dance uncontrollably in the streets of Strasburg. She danced for hours, days, months, joined by hundreds of others in her dance mania. Assuming that this dancing mania could only be solved by “dancing it out” or “shaking it off”, town officials set aside guild halls, hired musicians, and drummers to keep the dancers going. They only stopped dancing when they physically passed out from exhaustion. Several died, still entranced. It is assumed that the stresses of several famines, smallpox and syphilis outbreaks drove them to this frenzied, agonized dancing.
In the town of Taranto, Italy, there was a rumour that only dancing vigorously would counteract the effects of illness brought on by the bite of the tarantula spider. You would have to dance to tarantella music, to sweat it out and distribute the poison of the spider over the whole body, and so, the people of Italy danced in self-preservation.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, several Africans were brought to Brazil during the transatlantic slave trade. These enslaved Africans created the earliest forms of Capoeira, disguising martial art as a folk dance, and practising the self-defence aspect of it only when their captors were not present. Their dancing prepared them for revolution.
In Cuba, the Rumba Guaguanco is danced by couples, the man vying for the woman’s attention and trying to “sow his seed”, figuratively. The woman, playfully avoids contact, brushing him off and foiling his attempts to vacuano (vaccinate or inject) her. The Rumba Guaguanco is a dance of playful flirtation.
Across the ages, humans danced in prayer and worship, to show power and aggression in warfare, for personal expression, to form social connections, and in wooing and courtship.
I dance to communicate ideas, to feel in control of my body and my circumstances, and to feel part of a community.
Why do you dance?