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Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.



How to use History of Dance

By Gayle Kassing

How to Use This Book

Studying the history of dance from prehistory to the present can seem overwhelming. Vast numbers of people, dances and dance forms, dates, events, causes and effects, and historical periods can easily blur into an incomprehensible jumble of information that is difficult to connect to a specific period. To achieve a basic understanding of any history, you have to use tools to help you achieve the desired results. History of Dance offers various ways to dig up the past and a systematic method to guide your study of dancers, dance, and dance works chronologically by linking them to historical periods. In this part of the book we’ll look at how each chapter has been designed to help you learn the history of dance. Here are the features that will help you find your way through the book.

Glance at the Past

Each chapter begins with a snapshot of the historical scene, sketching in the major cultural, political, and economic events during the period covered. A look at the society and arts of the time completesthe picture. A time line identifies the major historical, societal, artistic, and technological events and gives you a visual sense of the entire period. Less

attention is paid to history and society in part IV, the20th century, since it is assumed that readers have studied American history; instead those overviews function as triggers for memories of the events. Theinformation about 20th-century society includes fashion, trends, and arts movements. Gaining an essential understanding of history and society prepares youfor the primary focus of the chapter: dance.

Dancers, Dance, and Dance Works Through the Centuries

Each chapter centers on three topics: dancers, dance, and significant dance works and literature. These topics provide you with an initial exposure to the major elements in dance history and a starting point for further research.

Dancers and Personalities

This section presents the major dancers, choreographers, and personalities of the period. Each entry begins with a brief biography that includes the person’s early history, career accomplishments,significant works, and contributions to dance.


The second topic, dance, identifies and briefly describes the major dances of the period, including their purpose, forms, and supporting arts. In parts II and III, a section called Dance Designs categorizes the features of dance forms and dances. Underlying any dance design are the elements of space, time, and force or energy. These elementsare then incorporated into a dance structure that relates to the dance accompaniment, costuming, and performance space. Not all of the design elements relate to every dance or dance form.Although each dance is unique, those with similar design elements or structures can be grouped into categories, thereby providing a basis for comparison between categories and historical periods. The design elements include

  • the types of movements or steps,
  • the number of people,
  • relationships or formations,
  • dance structure and type,
  • dance accompaniment,
  • costumes and other accoutrements, and
  • the performing space (which may include the time of day, if important).

Dance design has changed through the ages; some elements have been supplanted in importance by others. Chapters 3 through 7 look at design in terms of individual, community, social,and professional performance. As dance became a performing and theatrical art, it separated from dance as an amusement or social pursuit found in the ballroom and other settings. Dance innovation in society; ballrooms; on the musical, theatrical, or concert stage; and in dance clubs has played an important and enduring role in cross-fertilizing new danceideas and movements. This continued exchange among dance forms in various settings and within the context of society, arts, and history

enriches dance performance, whether a social pursuit or a performing art. In parts III and IV, the attention to design fades out and the exploration of significant works appears, as dance formsemerge.


Like dance design, musical accompaniment is an important collaborating art that influences and is in turn influenced by dance. The types of music and the composers who  supported dance are interrelated with dance’s development as both a social and performing art. Also important are the street wear of the time and dancers’ costumes and other adornments. A summary of dance costuming,shoes, and other paraphernalia paints a picture of the dancer during a specific period. Costume design was a significant part of dance’s transition from social amusement to performing art. Performance spaces too have varied considerably throughout history; those spaces, along with the technological innovations that transformedthem, are important elements in the development of dance as a performance art.

Significant Dance Works and Literature

In this section, major choreographic works of the period are listed with the choreographer, date of initial performance, and in some cases, additional information. Important dance authors and scholars add another perspective about some historical periods, and provide avenues for further research.

Four Continuing Questions

At the end of each chapter, four questions prompt the reader to review and summarize important points.

Developing a Deeper Perspective of Dance

The main text of each chapter provides concise information about dancers, dance, and significant dance works of the historical period. A fundamental study could stop there, but more remains to be explored. A series of learning activities builds on this foundation and allows further delving into the history of dance. Your course of study may be a survey or an in-depth history of dance; how deep you dig into that history depends on your motivation, time, and the extensiveness of your course.


Developing a Deeper Perspective of Dance consists of eight learning activities that provide more intensive study of the material presented in chapters 3 through 14. The activities include options and can be used in various ways. You and your teacher can select one, several, or all the activities as chapter assignments or as a basis for a more

extended study that crosses one or more centuries or time periods. Some of the activities provide the basis for extended projects. A template for eachchapter can be found on pages xvii-xviii. A preview of the template, along with explanations of each activity, can be found on pages xii-xiii.


In part II, Developing a Deeper Perspective concentrates on community dancers (e.g., a shaman or wedding or funeral party) or specific groups of people (e.g., peasants, clergy, or nobility). Parts III and IV focus on dancers, choreographers, and other personalities who emerged as prominent figures in the history of dance (from Louis XIV to

dancers recognized for their technical prowess, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, or for their choreographic ideas, such as Twyla Tharp).


Often courses in dance history culminate in a research and writing component. There are several ways to accomplish this. The appendixes and this discussion provide guidelines.

Research Projects

Traditionally, all history courses (and the history of dance is no exception) require an in-depth research project. The outcome of this research can be presented in various ways, such as a paper or project; you should consider the options carefully before making a decision. A project, which can include a proposal and an analysis paper, could be a reconstructed performance or anything that shows synthesis of a wide array of materials into a single entity. Another option is an Internet-based research project called a WebQuest, which provides a new way to interact with research gleaned from various Internet resources.

Written Assignments and Research Projects

Writing papers is an important aspect of the study of the history of dance. Besides research papers, other assignments can expand your observation skills, increase your analytical ability, and prepare you for larger written projects. A report on a dance performance, video, or DVD does just that. The report will hone your observational, analytical,

and writing skills as you attempt to understand the choreographer’s concept, the dance and its structure, and how the production elements relate to the choreography.

Observing and Reporting on Dance Performances

Viewing and understanding significant dance works are similar to attending a concert of an important composer’s music or reading a great work of literature. A visual memory repository of significant dance works is an important attribute for future dance, choreographic, or scholarly ventures.


Watching a dance and writing about it are two very different tasks. Viewing puts your observational skills into practice or challenges them in new ways. Just like the dancers, observers haveto prepare for a performance. Before you go to a concert or view a performance video, read the performance report form in appendix E. You shouldfocus your attention on the performance and watchit in its entirety before writing about it. Jot down notes about the story line or what you believe to be the choreographer’s idea for the dance, including

  • important movement sequences, motifs, and themes;
  • memorable poses or movements;
  • relationships or dramatic moments; and
  • stage pictures created.

Writing reports on significant dance works from several periods will help you gain experience in observing and writing about dance and choreography within a historical context. See appendix Bfor a list of essential dance works.


The performance report form (see appendix E) will guide you with questions about various aspects of the performance. The best strategy is to view the entire performance first and then write about what you saw. Programs for dance performances often offer detailed descriptions of the dance works; write your impressions and record what you saw before you read the program synopsis. After the performance, take time to reflect on it, using your visual memory of the dance. Translate the movement into kinetic words that describe it.


For your first report, describe what you saw when watching a short dance work from a live or video performance. Be factual; aim for recording exactly what you observed. Ask another person who did not view the dance to read your report and offer feedback. Appendix E outlines a systematic way to view a dance performance using the ORDER

system developed by Dr. Larry Lavender (1996). Although his system was originally devised for choreographic evaluation, it works well for viewing dance performances and using what you have learned as a basis for writing a report.


By repeating the process of observing and reporting, you develop skill in manipulating information and images into a stimulating report that moves from a review to a critique within a historical context. Over the process of writing many reports, you will move from documenting factual accounts into dance writing.

Comparative Literature

Reading magazine and journal articles on topics associated with the chapter and then summarizing the information is an excellent way to expand your knowledge. The next step is to compare two authors’ points of view on the same topic. These comparisons will hone your analytical and thinking skills, along with your writing.

Other Projects

The tools for evaluating learning in history courses have traditionally been paper-and-pencil tests and the research paper. But projects have their place in a dance history class, especially those that integrate technology. The projects contained in this book can be done by individuals, small groups,or entire classes. They range from learning activities in each chapter to additional assignments to projects, either small ones or more comprehensiveefforts that involve performing dances and often include Internet or other research. Often the projects mirror what dancers, choreographers, andscholars do on the job.

Collaborative Assignments

Projects for each chapter relate dance, dancers, and dancing to the milieu of the times. They focus on perceiving, creating, and responding to uncover the history of dance within an era. The time and depth of study per chapter can be expanded or condensed, depending on the intent and the intensity of your course of study.

Reconstruction Projects

Reconstruction is a way to synthesize what you have learned about a dance work utilizing written resources, notation scores, video recordings, costume designs, musical scores, and oral or written histories of its choreographer, dancers, or designers, all in the context of a historical time frame. In reconstructing a dance, you re-create it to the best of your ability and resources. The term reconstruction is widely used to describe this activity (although some dance scholars consider it inaccurate), and we will use it in discussing the basic skills needed to re-create a dance work.


In reconstructing a dance you have to take into account several viewpoints in order to find what you believe the choreographer communicated through his work. In a reconstruction, dancers analyze and synthesize a tremendous amount of information in addition to performing the work and striving to convey the choreographer’s conceptand intent to the audience. The magnitude of the reconstruction project determines its weight as an assignment or parameters as a project. Seeappendix D for specific guidelines.

Research Project and Paper

The research project is usually a component of any history of dance course. The research paper is generally assigned near the beginning of the term, with its scope determined by its format and length in word-processed pages and the number and types of citations from books, journal articles, videos, and Internet sites. Usually the format for the paper is specified. Style manuals and resources can provide general standards for scholarshipor specific ones determined by the teacher or school.


Writing an extensive research paper takes time and commitment. Starting a paper the night before it is due does not allow you to meet its objective, nor is it a sane way to address a huge project. With such limited (and self-imposed) time parameters, these projects usually turn into disasters.


Writing a research paper is also an exercise in time management. You have to bite off little chunks of it at a time in order to experience the process in a satisfying way.You may wonder how a research paper project can be satisfying when you dread the idea of writing it. You may think all those style rules to follow about quotations and paraphrasing are too much. If the last research paper you wrote was in freshman English and you are now a junior or senior, you may feel overwhelmed. You have to remember how it was done and write a research paper about dance! And if you don’t know much about the history of dance, how do you choose a topic? To minimize your stress and maximize the experience, follow the steps for writing a research paper outlined in appendix C. It won’t guarantee to make completing the project or writing the paper more enjoyable, but it does break the work downinto manageable parts that will help you attain your—oops, your teacher’s—goal.


A WebQuest is a 21st-century version of the research project, one that depends on your technological abilities and computer capabilities to create a linked, multimedia environment on the Internet.


The WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which the learner interacts with Internet resources. This model of instruction, originally used for integrating technology projects in public schools, has expanded to college and graduate education. Its purpose was to meet the educational goals of criticalthinking and cooperative learning integrated with technology. In a WebQuest about the history of dance, a student or group utilizes Internet andtechnology resources to describe a dancer, dance, or significant dance work. The steps for developing a WebQuest are similar to those for writing a research paper.

  • First choose a broad topic. This involves preliminary research. Developing a series of questions about the topic helps you determine what you want to study.
  • Select a topic and narrow its scope to a manageable size so that you can do the research and writing within the time allowed.
  • A WebQuest focuses on a central question that will be explored or answered. This is the hypothesis, or research question or problem. You should focus on and clarify a problem or question that replicates a real-world situation.
  • Web-based resources provide sources of information, such as
    • experts in the field,
    • databases,
    • current reports, and
    • opposing viewpoints.

A WebQuest can be a short- or long-term project for an individual or a group. Short-term projects span one to three class periods; long-term projects can last from more than a week to a month. Appendix A compares the components of a WebQuest to those of a research paper. They are similar in their parts, purposes, and outcomes.

History of Dance in the 21st Century

By focusing on dancers, dance, and significant dance works in each historical era, utilizing the right tools to gain understanding, and participating in activities that extend your knowledge, you will acquire a multimedia view of dance from the dawn of time to the beginning of the third millennium—and beyond.


Take a closer look at sample pages of History of Dance.


This is an excerpt from History of Dance.

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