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Dance Quotations

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Copeland & Cohen

Curt Sachs

Jamake Highwater Gerald Jonas
Mary Dart Richard Nevell
Keller & Shimer Various Sources

 What is Dance?   ed. Copeland & Cohen



To dance means to be new, to be fresh at every moment,
As though one had just issued from the hand of God

Dancing is a relatively safe form of intoxication.

The dance is one of the many human experiences which cannot be suppressed. Dancing has existed at all times, and among all peoples and races. The dance is a form of expression given to man just as speech, philosophy, painting or music.

The dance, like every other artistic expression, presupposes a heightened, increased life response.

As our life becomes more and more artificial and we live more and more at second hand, we feel a growing need for that direct contact with life which is felt in dance.

Might one not consider the dance as a kind of inner life in which physiology is dominant?

In the practical world the guiding principle seems to be the straight line, the least action, the shortest time.  The dance is the exact opposite.  It moves in a self-contained realm of its own.

Compare the dancer to a flame, to any phenomenon that is visibly sustained by the intense consumption of a superior energy.

The body seems to have broken free from its usual states of balance.
It seems to be trying to outwit-- I should say outrace -- its own weight.

The dancing body seems unaware of its surroundings.  It seems to be concerned only with itself and one other object-the earth.  The earth, the ground, the solid place, the plane on which everyday life plods along, the plane of walking, the prose of human movement.

The dancer is in another world; no longer the world that takes color from our gaze, but one that she weaves with her steps and builds with her gestures.  And in that world, acts have no outward aim; there is no object to grasp, to attain, to repulse.

In this world nothing is unforeseen.

For the dancer there is no outside.  Nothing exists beyond the system she sets up by her acts.   One is reminded of sleep-an artificial somnabulism, a group of sensations which make themselves a dwelling place where certain muscular themes follow one another in an order which creates a special kind of time that is absolutely its own.

Man perceived that he possessed more vigor, more suppleness, more articular and muscular possibilities, than he needed to satisfy the needs of his existence, and he discovered that certain of these movements, by their frequeny, succession, or range, gave him a pleasure equivalent to a kind of intoxication and sometimes so intense that only exhaustion, an ecstasy of exhaustion, as it were, could interrupt his delirium, his frantic motor expenditure.

Do you not realize that the dance is the pure act of metamorphosis?

Music must be swallowed by movement.

The erotic forces, the bonds of love and the communing selves, the freedom from gravity, which enthusiastic ballroom dancers experience.

The eternal popularity of dance lies in its ecstatic function.
Instead of transporting the dancers from a profane to a sacred state, it now transports them from what they acknowledge as "reality" to a realm of romance. There are quite genuine "virtual powers" created even in social dance:
        the magnetic forces that unite a group;
        the powers of rhythm that carry the body through space
        with seemingly less than its usual requirement of effort.

Dance is, in fact, the most serious intellectual business of savage life: it is the envisagement of a world beyond the spot and the moment of one's animal existence, the first conception of life as a whole.

Sachs observes that the oldest dance form seems to be the Reign, or cirde dance, which he takes to be a heritage from animal ancestors.  He regards it as a spontaneous expression of gaiety.

The circle dance really symbolizes a most important reality in the life of primitive men -- the sacred realm, the magic circle....mystic circling, in which power jumps across from those on the outside to the one on the inside or vice versa...the people encircle the head of the enemy, the sacrifical buffalo, the altar, the golden calf, the holy wafer, in order that the power of these objects may flow across to them in some mysterious way.

Free dance movement produces (for the performer as well as the spectator) the illusion of a conquest of gravity.

Dance: a pleasurable motor reaction, a game forcing excess energy into a rhythmic pattern.

Dancing is used to express the "inexpressible residue of emotion" which mere rationality cannot convey.

Because of the close relationship between movement and personal experience, temperament, mental and emotional equipment:

Every emotional state tends to express itself in movement.

Apart from war, dancing is the chief factor making for social solidarity in primitive life.  The value of dance as a method of individual and national education was recognized as civilization became increasingly self-conscious.  In the Laws Plato remarked that a good education includes knowing how to dance and sing well.

Dancing is the primitive expression alike of religion and love

Some of the wisest philosophers and the most ancient civilizations have regarded the dance as the pattern in accordance with which the moral life of men must be woven.

What a man danced, that was his tribe, his social custom, his religion.

To dance is to take part in the cosmic control of the world.

You cannot find a single ancient mystery in which there is no dancing

The auto-intoxication of rapturous movement brings the devotees, for awhile at least, into that self-forgetful union with the not-self which the mystic ever seeks.

It  is,  however,  the  dance  itself...which,  in  the  opinion  of many to-day, has had a decisive influence in socializing, that is to say in moralizing, the human species.

The participants in a dance, as all observers of savages have noted, exhibit a wonderful unison; they are, as it were, fused into a single being stirred by a single impulse.   Social unification  is  thus  accomplished.

All our most advanced civilization, Grosse insisted, is based on dancing.  It is the dance that socialized man.

Thus, in the large sense, dance has possessed a peculiar value as a method of national education.

"A good education" Plato declared in "The Laws," "consists in knowing how to sing and dance well."

In our own day one of the keenest and most enlightened of educationists, Stanley Halt, has dedared "the revival of dancing is imperatively needed to give poise to the nerves, schooling to the emotions, strength to the will, and to harmonize the feelings and the intellect with the body which supports them."

Rachel Verhagen said: Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff.   (“It is a puzzle,and we are the pieces,” my son once said about karate)

Nietszche said: "Everyday I count wasted in which there has been no dancing."

One need not be an anthropologist or a cultural historian to remark that social dancing these days seems to isolate the individual in a trance-like self-absorption which virtually disconnects him from the world and even from his partner.

        The minuet reflected and incorporated the worldly ranks which its participants brought with them when they entered the ballroom.
        Not so the waltz.  The waltz emphasized not uniformity, but individual expression; there are no rules to be studied, save for a few basic steps; the individual is encouraged to introduce his own variations and interpretations.
        The emphasis is on the participation of all, and on the equality of all, while rewarding achievement within the dance itself rather than the status one brings to a dance from "the world outside."

The waltz not only made it possible for individuals to come together on an egalitarian basis, it also made possible a kind of "escape" from reality through the thrilling dizziness of whirling one's way  in a private world of sensuality.  The "letting go" function of the waltz seems relevant to a world without clear standards, in which the individual stood alone having to find his own way.


 Curt Sachs,  World History of the Dance

The dance is the mother of the arts,

The dance breaks down the distinction of body & soul.

"Whosoever knoweth the power of the dance, dwelleth in God," cries the Persian dervish poet Rumi impulsively.

Dance, in its essence, is simply life on a higher level.

The dance lives in all mankind as a necessary motor-rhythmic expression of excess energy and the joy of living.

The peoples influenced by the animal dance have a variety of movements and dance with enthusiasm; those who do not know the animal dance have few movements and show little zest for dancing.

Rhythmic motion has become the carrier and creator of almost every ecstatic mood of any significance in human life.

In Europe we have the "loss of self" motif clearly illustrated in the whirl dances of the Russians sects of the Molokani in Armenia....All the countries that bordered the Meditteranean in ancient times, and the less remote sections of Asia as well, appear to have had whirl dances.

It removes the limitations of his body, extinguishes his consciousness, and pours the divine spirit into him.  The whirl dance is the purest form of dance devotion.


The adult who puts his arm around his companion in the ballroom, and the child in the roadway, skipping in a round dance -- they forget themselve, they dissolve the weight of earthly contact and the rigidity of daily existence.
          The soul slips into a twilight stage.

The superhuman power which exhiliration and hypnosis bring to a dancer is shown especially clearly in his almost inconceivable staying powers in a state of high tension. "In the dance even the weakest can do wonders."

Exhiliration, which comes from the movement alone, has brought "a certain aneasthesia: the extinguishing of all feelings of exertion and fatigue."

A person can be danced.  In all continents the dancers carry little children on their shoulders.

The imageless or abstract dance. It aims simply at ecstasy, or it takes over the form of mystic circling, in which power jumps across from those on the outside to the one on the inside or vice versa....After the feast of the Passover before going out to fulfill his destiny, Christ commands his disciples to join hands and dance around him in a circle.  In this sacred union he makes his last bequest: "Now answer thou unto my dancing.  Behold thyself in me who speak."

The magical goal of the imageless exhiliration dance is the attainment of a state of ecstasy in which the dancer transcends the human and physical and, released from his self, wins the power of interfering with the events of the world.  The particular goal-rain, health, victory -- is thought of only as a pure idea without putting its stamp on the dance form.

If you ask an Auin Bushman what realty happens at the puberty ceremonials, he will tell you, "We dance."   In the initiation customs of all peoples the dances play an especially important part.  The dance is the center of wedding festivities.

The CHORAL DANCE represents the organized excitement reflex of a community.

In the earliest cultures any tie between the dancers is slight.
In a higher level the choral dancers almost always touch one another and thus force themselves into the same stride and the same movement.  The closer the contact, the stronger is the social character of the choral.

The oldest form of the Choral Dance is the circle. Even the chimpanzees dance in a circle, and people of every continent still do it.

In those cultures which depart from circular buildings and set up rectangular huts -- and quite exclusively in such cultures -- the choral dance also takes on the form of a straight line.

The circle stands for itself; it is closed to the surrounding world and to spectators....The row. on the other hand, which is open towards the outside, permits the dancers to face one another.

Although the circle dance is known throughout the entire world, the front dance is limited to the cultures of which the rectangular hut is a part.

 Wherever there are four walls, consciousness of direction is far keener.

 The dance in which the men form one row, the women another, and dance with and opposite each other in a form of love play, is widely diffused and may be confidentally assigned to a Protoneolithic culture level.

 The Chain Dance.  This dance is widely known as the chaine anglaise...This figure is rare among primitive peoples....But it is common in the folk dances of Europe.

The couple dance, which has been maintained as the most important kind of dance to the present day in Europe, is not at all unknown among primitive peoples....Almost all these couple dances are "open": the dancers either have no direct contact with each other or they may touch each other at the most with one hand...Close turning dances, like the Europeans, seem not to be executed by the primitives.

The only information we have about the early history of the dance comes to us from the rock paintings created by primitive man tens of thousands of years ago in what is now France.

Whatever the nature of dance, it needs no onlooker,
           not even a single witness.

The charm of the European dance lies in the contact of man and woman, in the common rhythm and harmony of movement.  The European dance is the physical duet, the captivating charm of which lies in the unison of motion.

The advance of the contre is analagous with the rise of bourgeois society and the decline of the aristocratic culture...it is a choral dance, the basic form of which are older than the single couple dance.

The English dance unites the guests of an evening by the spell of rhythmical movement into a chance casual community.

Moliere's Dancing Master:  "There is nothing so necessary for men as dancing...Without dancing a man can do nothing...All the disasters of mankind, all the fatal misfortunes that histories are so full of, the blunders of politicians, the miscarriages of great commanders, all this comes from want of skill in dancing..."  (Sachs says: "This is is not at all exaggerated.”)

The English Country Dance has one characteristic to be found nowhere else: the gradual entrance of couple after couple, the pleasing combination of the choral dance and the single couple dance.

How England came by this dance can scarcely be ascertained, for the country dance was first a pure folk dance and hence cannot be traced historically.

When it enters our historical vision -- rather fleetingly at the end of the sixteenth century, and substantially with the appearance of the Dancing Master in 1650 -- it has already been accepted in the higher society.

In 1688 the Parisian dancing master, Landrin, writes in an unprinted manual of the contredanse that three years before he had travelled to England to satisfy the Dauphin's wish for new centres, and had collected the rarest ones.

By 1714 the contre has reached Spain.  Bonnet writes in 1723 that an English dance teacher introduced the contre twelve or fifteen years earlier, about 1710, and that by 1717 it is already "received almost everywhere."

In 1728 Dufort in his Tratto del Balto Nobile describes, besides the minuet, only the contre -- 'non gia perche lo meriti -- even if it does not deserve it: The whole art of these contredanses is in tossing the body about,  twisting and turning, tapping their feet like clog dancers, and taking up positions which are not even decent."

The entire dance was based upon the smooth interweaving of the figures and the harmonious co-operation of the couples.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the other type of English country dance, the round, although discarded in England itself, was taken over by the French, at least in the form of the round for eight (Square dancing!)

In the Dancing Master the [Grande] chaine appears under the name of the hey -- the English hey or hay comes from the French haie, "hedge," which with the same meaning was used in the sixteenth century to designate the last figure of the danse de buffons.

The contre. ..By 1800 was as much despised as it had been a hundred years earlier.  The English dances are "nothing but a characterless tripping...the beautiful art has sunk to the level of ordinary physical exercise.  They stamp around and leap to the rhythm and call that dancing."

France 1804: "People love these waltzes or genuine gliding dances...0nly since the war has the waltz together with tobacco-smoking and other vulgar habits become common."

The decline of the choral dance is a cause and an indication of the social development.  The choral dance, communal dances, demand a compact social order...nature peoples -- whose life is passed in the community of village and tribe...has established as their chief characteristic the predominance of the collective over the individual spirit -- cultivate the couple dance but little and then only in the last stage of their development.

A choral dance: an attempt to impose upon a chance gathering of a few dozen guests a communal feeling.

Since the Brazilian maxixe of 1890 and the cakewalk of 1903 broke up the pattern of turns and glides that dominated the European round dances, our generation has adopted with disquieting rapidity a succession of Central American dances, in an effort to replace what has been lost to modern Europe: multiplicity, power, and expressiveness of movement to the point of grotesque distortion of the entire body -- turkey trot, tango, foxtrot, shimmy, Charleston, black bottom, rumba -- all compressed into even movement, all emphasizing strongly the erotic element, and all in that glittering rhythm of syncopated four-four measures classified as ragtime.

Only the tango has continued to enjoy undiminished favor for more than twenty years in spite of polishing and refinement. To be sure, it is no pure Negro dance and owes its best qualities to the unusual dance talents of the Spaniards.

When the tango made its appearance in the old world in 1910, it released a dance frenzy, almost a mania, which attacked all ages and classes with the same virulence...this dance madness proves that man of the machine age...has just as much need of the dance as the primitive.  For him too the dance is life on another plane.

The twentieth century has rediscovered the body; not since antiquity has it been so loved, felt, and honored.


Dance Rituals of Experience   by Jamake Highwater

At the root of all the various manifestations of dancing lies  the  common  impulse  to resort  to movement  to externalize emotional states which we cannot externalize by rational means.

Martha Graham: "The world I'm interested in is the one where things are not named."

The story of dance in the Western world is as much an alternative vision of the events of history as is the folk history told for generations by primal people.

Dance has been transformed from an involuntary motor discharge, a ceremonial rite, into a work of art, conscious of, intended for, observation.

In the New Hebrides, any dancer making a mistake was assaulted, wounded, and possibly killed by bowmen posted to keep careful watch for inaccuracies in rituals.

The nobility danced for the sake of social grace, to exhibit their finery...peasants danced to make themselves happy, to escape the routine of their life, and to meet their future wives and husbands.

Some of the most popular discos in America and Europe were started as gay establishments, which began to open their doors to anyone who wanted to dance.

Until the Black choreographic imagination spilled over into white society, the most you could expect at a white people's dance was a polka or a square dance.  Even the Irish clog dance wasn't much to rave about until Blacks took it over and turned into something called tap dancing, which became a whole tradition.

White performances were always dull in comparison to the astonishing expressiveness of Black dancers.  Behind the white person's inarticulate body were centuries of condemnation of dancing on religious grounds.

Among primal people dance was a ritualistic metaphor of the life process.
        For the Hellenic world, dance became consciously ceremonialized and was a vehicle for the expression of a humanistic value system.
        For the Princes of the middle ages, dance became anentertainment and a vehicle for exhibitionism.
        With the rise of ballet in the 17th century, dance presumed to be "art."

Dance in this century has remained primarily a personal ritual operating, like most avant-garde art, as an idiosyncratic form rather than a tribal expression of religious powers or a corporate expression of societal values.


 Dancing   by Gerald Jonas

The basic vehicle of the dance is the human body. When and how people dance is determined by their attitudes towards their body.

The circle, or ring, dance was seen as an earthly counterpart of the heavenly dance of the angels, which was itself a celebration of the resurrection.

Writing, not dancing, is the chosen form of expression of the white man.

Dance, which displays the body in public, is one of the channels of communication used to pass along important social skills from one generation to the next.

In  many  parts  of  the  world—including  Polynesia,  north Africa & the Middle East—public dancing that focused on a physically linked couple would have been unthinkable, a violation  of communal propriety.

But the group dances of the European countryside have long included passages in which a man and a woman came together briefly for a few steps or turns; these may have provided models for the couple dancing that drew increasing attention in Western Europe toward the end of the middle ages.

The late medieval social dance anticipated (and possibly contributed to) the empowerment of the individual.

The one unbreakable rule of couples dancing is that the partners must move inter dependently, as a unit.

When the waltz first became popular...no one led because no one had to; the steps followed a predetermined pattern, the dancers always turned in a predetermined direction (clockwise) while circling around the floor with all the other couples in a predetermined direction (counterclockwise).

The need for continuous communication between the partners is built into the very structure of couples dancing.  But the rule that the man must always lead is not. As in all dance, the role of the gender in a waltz or a lindy or a fox-trot is determined by the culture.  If they wished the partners could conceivably take turns leading or flip a coin before each dance to see who leads.

By dancing in a socially approved way with their peers, individiuals proclaim their allegiance to society as a whole.

The jig itself, as danced in North America by both blacks and whites, was fusion of Irish and west African dance forms.

One form of dancing that enslaved Africans probably learned from watching fancy dress balls in the "big house" (where the best black fiddlers provided the music) was European style couples dancing -- in which partners touched each other.

Leopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal, stated emphatically:

Reminiscences of former slaves indicate that so called huggin ' dances were a relatively late development.


African - American dances. A vigorous hybrid: African body movement joined to European touch dancing.

When the twist caught on...Partners let go of each other, stepped apart, and proceeded to twist, shake, undulate and wriggle on their own The twist was followed by the frug, the monkey, the jerk & so on.

The new kind of dancing meant liberation not only from the rules of leading and following but from rules of any kind.

African derived improvisation had triumphed over European-style touch-dancing.

Samba: somebody is moving like crazy from the waist down while an entirely different person is observing the proceedings from the waist up.

A physician who treated mental cases says that he based his diagnosis on the way his patients moved: "The body never lies" was his maxim.

Martha Graham: "Dancing had its origin in ritual" which she defined as "the formalized desire to achieve union with those beings who could bestow immortality."


Contra Dance Choreography: A Reflection  of Social Change     by Mary Dart

The origin of the term, "contra dance," is a source of speculation...Some suggest the term derives from the Latin word, "contra," meaning "against," and refers to two lines of dancers facing "contrary" to one another.  Another theory submits that the term arrives from the French term, "contre-danse," used in France to refer to english Country dances.

The first source of English Country dances that appeared in print was John Playford's The English Dancing Master: or Plaine and Easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Tunes, with the Tune to Each Dance , published in 1651.

The first edition contains thirty-eight longways dances out of a total of 105 country dances, and in the last volume (1728) the ratio has increased to 904 longways dances out of a total of 918.

        During the colonial period, country dancing was one of the principal forms of recreation for people of all social classes.
        Longways were danced in the colonies in 1670 -- in all 13 colonies.
        Following the War of 1812, many people refused to dance the English dances, turning instead to the square dances that were brought over by the French.  The anti-British sentiment was not as strong in New england, however, and there the English Contra dances continued to be danced.

During the latter half of the 19th century the buzz step swing, a swing in ballroom position, was introduced into the dancing in New England and replaced the two hand swing.

By the end of the 19th century, the Contra dance was in a decline almost everywhere. ...The 20th century has seen a tremendous revival of country dancing.

By the mid 1970s contra dance had gained a strong foothold in dance communities centered in Boston, New York, Berea (Kentucky), Brasstown (North Carolina), Knoxville & Atlanta.

(Curt Sachs: The various combinations of the finding and losing of partners are inexhaustible.)
The number of possible permutations of these twenty figures into dances of seven figures each would then be...390,700,800 (Gene Hubert pointed out that some figures can only be danced from selected positions: revised calculation:  3,538,944 possible contras).

Figures in which several dancers hold on to one another are excellent for teaching new dancers to dance, because it is much harder for a beginner to get lost holding on to others in a circle or a line. The recent incorporation of "heys" and "gypsies"in addition to the "dosido" has resulted in dances where there is less physical connection between dancers, which makes them harder to learn for beginners.

Group moves in which the whole room is moving together, such as "lines forward & back," or "down the center four in line," remind the dancers that they are dancing with a whole community of dancers, and not just with their little subsets of  four or with their partners.

A number of callers suggested that it is helpful to both begin and end an evening with a dance in the contra dance formation (excluding the final waltz), because at the beginning of an evening a contradance in progress can easily be joined by people as they arrive at the dance....

The new contra dance choreography reflects the movement towards gender equality....A growing concern for giving both sexes a chance to lead the figures, to have a good piece of the action, and to interact with members of the same gender in the dance.


A Time to Dance  by Richard Nevell

They can do whatever they want...so long as it doesn't mess someone else up.  The contra dance is a powerful instrument for teaching people to cooperate, to think about other people.

While the standardization of the dances is criticized by some, we feel it is a good influence,  A person can go anywhere in the United states, and some countries all around the world, and find people who know how to dance just like he does. That's a comfortable feling for a lot of people.

Not a fan of ballroom dancing....he likes contra dancing, square dancing and round dancing, in that order: "Mostly it provides a regularly scheduled way to get out of the house and away from the television. You know, it gives me a chance to associate with some pleasant people in an an active, participatory way."


 The Playford Ball  by Keller & Shimer

The repertoire is limited and the dances rarely taught, since people dancing them have done them all their lives.

Unlike the couples dances, in which steps are most important, country dances are created from a vocabulary of often symmetrical floor tracks along which the dancers move with or around one another.

Country dances appear to have been regarded as a pleasing alternative to the formal dances which required great skill in performance.

The country dance is a group dance in which there is interaction between two or more couples and it is a democratic dance in that the couples often change position in the set and take turns leading the figures.



His instrument of expression is the human body, the only material which is his own, and his own to use.

The first question of value: can they walk?  Even more, can they dance?

Music: the most secret means of expressing our situation on earth.

Figure dances use group movement and patterns.  No complex stepping patterns or intricate body movements.

These are Social dances rather than Peformance dances.

Music makes people happy

"Dance 'til the stars come down with the rafters. Dance, dance, dance
'til you drop."  W.H.Auden  A.MacNeice

Dancing makes us     Kinder & Happier        more likely
            To Love & Be Loved                 less likely
                    to go out & hang ourselves



Copyright 2001
Henry Morgenstein

email:   henry @ henryandjacqui,com_

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