Home Issues and Ideas What is Art? What is Dance? by Christel Stevens

What is Dance? by Christel Stevens

What is Dance? by Christel Stevens

Human beings dance for several reasons. The word “dance” may be defined as any rhythmic, repetitive, or expressive movement performed for its own sake, rather than for a utilitarian purpose such as transportation or food-gathering. One category of dancing, dance performed to attract a mate, is common to animals and humans alike. Even birds and fish in some cases dance before mating. Among humans, there are forms of social or recreational dancing which in general may be said to fall into the category of mating displays.

Dance as a form of artistic expression and dance as a component of religious ritual are solely characteristic of human culture. However, the complexity of human nature requires one to recognize that any given body of dance compositions may be used in different categories, at various times or on various occasions. Dance performed as an element of religious ritual can sometimes develop into the most inspired artistic expression. Similarly, dance of any kind can be used as a mating display. Dance theoretician Judith Hanna states in her Dance, Sex and Gender, “Even when a dancer intends only to explicate movement forms, the dancer’s body is said to disappear into the movement; even when the shape of the body is obscured by costume, signs and symbols of sexuality may be read into the dance and erotic or lustful feeling aroused.”

Christel Stevens is a metro DC cave-dweller, specializes in Indian classical dance, works as an arts bureaucrat in Prince George’s County, and currently performs with the Silk Road Dance Company.


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