Ancient line and circle dances

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The earliest known forms of dances were in a line or chain. These may have developed from rituals dating from over three thousand years ago. The only evidence for such early dances is pottery.

The east European Horo

The basic chain dances danced on social and special occasions in the Balkan countries all have similar names:  Horo - Bulgaria, Oro - Macedonia, Hora - Romania, and Kolo - Serbia, and Horon - Black Sea, khorovod - Russia.

Some suggest a derivation from the ancient Greek word Choros, but it is more probable they all, including the Greek Choros, derive from an earlier tradition. The distribution of potential early circle dances pre-dates the rise of Greek culture, and the current distribution is wider than the sphere of the Greek world. In common with the Greek Choros, the Romanian Hora is also used for the village social dance event, usually held on a Sunday.

Chain dances in Europe

Chain dances are a key feature of pre-Christian rituals, examples of which are still found in Romania. This suggests a long continuity from at least the Iron Age Dacian/Thracian times.

Chain dances were widespread throughout Europe until the Middle Ages, but only a few examples remain in west Europe, whereas in south east Europe they have remained the dominant dance form. The spread of newer dance fashions from the west was halted by the Ottoman Empire at the line of the Carpathians. In much of western Europe Protestant Christian religions inflicted a break in social dancing causing the loss of older dances, but in Wallachia and Moldavia line dances developed uninterrupted.

Vocal & instrumental

The earliest dancing is thought to have been accompanied by vocal music. This tradition is still strong in most of the Slavic Balkan countries, and with the Vlach living in the Pindus Mountains, and in a few scattered examples across the rest of Europe. In Romania it is restricted to a few women's dances in the Târnave valley (Transylvania) and Bucovina and Maramures in the north.

Archaeology

The Minoan pottery from over 3000 years ago shows dancing accompanied by the Lyre. This is an instrument similar to a harp but with the strings across a four sided frame. This is first recorded in Sumeria in 2800 BC, and also in Egypt around 2000 BC, although but it is most commonly associated with the later ancient Greek Empires.

period title museum
Cucuteni (Romania)
(eneolithic age, 4000-3000BC)
pottery of 6 stylized figures in a closed circle Bucharest archaeological museum, Romania
Minoan (Kamilari cemetery)
(Crete bronze age, 1900-1300BC)
clay model of 4 male figures performing a circle dance Heraklion museum, Crete
Minoan (Palaikastro)
Crete bronze age, 1400-1100BC)
Figures of dancers performing a circular dance to a musician playing the lyra Heraklion museum, Crete
Athens
(8th BC)
pottery decoration showing 13 soldiers in a circle dance Antikensammlungen, Munchen, Germany
Boeotian
(Archaic Greek 7th BC)
clay figure of goddess decorated with a chain of dancers Louve, Paris, France
Boeotian
(Archaic Greek 6th BC)
clay model of 4 dancers performing a circle dance around a musician Kestner Museum, Hanova, Germany
Etruscan (Tarquinia)
(6th BC)
Pottery decoration, 17 dancers around Herakles wrestling Triton Museo municpale, Tarquinia, Italy
Etruscan (Apulia)
(~350BC)
Fresco of dancers in "front basket hold", tomb of Ruvo Museo e Gallerie Nazionale de Capodimente, Napoli, Italy
Cyprus
(early 5th BC)
Head of a Female Votive Figure, headdress a throng of maenads and silens dance through a colonnade topped with rosettes. Worcester Art Museum, England

References

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