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Art and religion are both well-attested and much-studied aspects of ancient Greek life, yet their relationship is not perfectly understood.


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In ancient Greecedance had a ificant presence in everyday life. The Greeks not only danced on many different occasions, but they also recognized several non-performative activities such as ball-playing or rhythmic physical exercise as dance. In fact, dancing to the ancient Greeks seemed like a natural response of the body, mind, and soul to music.

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They would dance spontaneously at weddings or drinking parties symposiaor perform pre-arranged choreographies as exemplified by the chorus' dances in the ancient Greek theatre. Greek dances could be performed individually or in a group.

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They could tell a story, showcase martial and athletic skills, entertain guests, or shape processions and other key parts of religious rituals. Whilst dance is largely defined in ancient Greek literature as an element of the mousike the umbrella term which covers all of the performing arts: making music, dancing, singing, and recitationthere is a wide range of evidence that suggests dancing was practiced as an independent skill.

Dance-training gymnopaidai was a foundation subject in school, and pictures of boys and girls practicing dance under the supervision of male and female tutors appear in vase painting. Classical writers such as PlatoLucian, and Athenaeus recommended dancing as an essential part of the development of good citizens, men and womenthanks to its constructive effects on the body and mind.

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As in many ancient cultures, dancing played a fundamental role in ancient Greek society for thousands of years. The origins of the Greek dance date back to the 2nd millennium BCE. Tradition has it that Cretehome of the Minoan civilizationis the birthplace of Greek dance.

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Minoan art and culture had a great impact on the Mycenaean civilization and the Cycladic people, and these three together cradled what is known today as the classical Greek, or Hellenicculture. Therefore, it is very likely that the Greek dance forms effectively evolved from their origins in Minoan Crete.

The Greek tragedy playwright Sophocles c. Athenaeus, too, highlights Crete as the birthplace of several kinds of dance, including the pyrrhic or war -dance and the sikinnis or the satyr dance.

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Seals and gold rings decorated with engraved figures of dancing women were found in Isopata, near Knossos, and Hagia Triada, near Phaistosfrom c. At the eastern end of Crete, Palaikastro gives us clay figurines of several female dancers, who also appear in the wall -paintings of the Late Minoan palace at Knossos.

The Cretan painted and sculpted figures of dancing women are often identified as goddesses or priestesses, which suggests a fundamental relationship between dancing and religious beliefs common among most early communities and ancient civilizations, including ancient Greece.

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Lucian, to whom we owe the only surviving complete text about the ancient Greco- Roman dance, believed that dance is a cosmic creation because the stars and planets in their harmonious travels dance around the universe. Greek dance forms can be categorized, overall, into individual and dating greek Tyler men or group performances. The individual format is further divided into solo performances of professional entertainers and freestyle dancing for leisure similar to modern party dancing. Xenophon - c. One dancer grabbed a light shield and recreated a scene of combat against two imaginary warriors, then he danced a Persian dance which, again, consisted of martial movements.

Then a girl, dressed as a warrior, dazzled the audience with her brilliant performance of the pyrrhic dance, the dance of fire, the most popular war-dance in the Greek world. Another venue for solo performances was the symposiumwhere professional troupes could be hired to provide musical entertainment.

Sometimes the dancing girls also contributed to the music-making and kept the beat with a pair of krotala clappers. If the host could afford a complete troupe, then the entertainment also included a kind of variety show with different s of graceful dance improvisations and amazing acrobatic and musical actions.

Symposia are also our main source of knowledge about the spontaneous, freestyle dancing of the Greek people. Revelry was, in fact, a common form of individual improvisation with loose body shaking in a group of fellow-drinkers. The second category of Greek dance forms is the group performance.

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It is often stated that dancing in antiquity was a collective activity, and the Greek dance is largely summed up as a group dance. Homer c.

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In material culture, named Greek dancers first appear on the Francois Vasec. The topmost frieze of this vase, under the brim, shows a group of 14 youths and maidens who hold hands and step in a line to celebrate their redemption by Theseusthe Athenian prince and hero, from the Cretan labyrinth.

PlutarchPollux, and Lucian, among others, linked this dance with the geranosa popular chain dance of a fast pace. In fact, linear is only one, although perhaps the most frequent, format of the Greek group dance. The other two formats are circular and zigzag. Linear dances are largely tied with both religious rites such as processions in public festivals and daily occasions such as weddings and funerals.

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Circular formats, too, were often part of a ritual when the line dancers began to dance around the altar of a deity. In dances like the geranos that had connections with the labyrinth and the thread given to Theseus by Ariadne to find his way back, the dancers could imitate the twists and turns of these two elements. The linear and circular dance forms were often used in the most famous dance of ancient Greece, the theatrical dance of the chorus.

The original form of this dance, the dithyrambis largely associated with Dionysos.

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It was the most enduring form of collective performance which lasted from the 7th century BCE until Late Antiquity. The Great Dionysia, known as the birthplace of Greek dramawas developed when the 6th-century BCE lyric poet Lasus of Hermione introduced this form of choral dancing and singing to Athens. The chorus in the Greek theatre performed a series of choreographed movements in parabasisthe choral deliverance of the playwright's message to the audience. The chorus was led by a choregosthe chorus-leader.

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The pace and rhythm of the dances could vary according to the poetic measures of the play, and there was a specific type of dance for each of the dramatic genres. The chorus performed the emmeleia in tragedies, the kordax in Greek comedyand the sikinnis in a satyr-play.

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Dancing figures, both mythical and historical, have many representations in ancient Greek literature. Odysseus admires Nausicaa's beauty and charm revealed through her delightful dancing. Hermes falls in love with Philomela when he sees her dancing in honour of Artemis.

The most in famous dancing characters, however, are the companions of no other deity than Dionysos. His male retinue consists of the satyrs, half-men and half-goat, known for their incurably merry and mischievous characters. More often than not, the satyrs are dancing and chasing young women, particularly the maen, female worshippers of Dionysos. Their ecstatic dancing often culminated in violence and extraordinary behaviours such as handling snakes and dismembering animals.

The Greek tragedian Euripides c. These mythical dancers were imitated by mortals as well. The Pronomos Vase, a large and elaborately decorated volute-krater from c. On the other side of this vase, Dionysos and his dancer spouse, Ariadne, the Cretan princess, look down on Pronomos, the pipe-player. Women on many occasions acted as dating greek Tyler men maen. These could be part of a festival or a woman-only ritual. In the annual festival of the Agrionia, for example, once three groups of dancing women hastened away to the mountains, wandering around all night in their collective ecstasy to rise above their earthly existence and their god, Dionysos.

While it is difficult to trace the modern Greek dance all the way back to antiquity, the ancient Greek dance forms and movements are still to be found in various Greek communities today. Ancient Greek dance, together with its associated stories and figures, has inspired, and keep inspiring, writers, poets, painters, dancers, stage performers, and many others throughout the ages and across many cultures around the world.

World History Encyclopedia is a non-profit organization. Choubineh, N. Ancient Greek Dance.

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Please support World History Encyclopedia Foundation. Thank you! Listen to this article. Translated text available in: ItalianPersianGreek. Remove Advertisement. Editorial Review This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication. Garfinkel, J. Accessed 9 Nov Lawler, L. Naerebout, F.