History of dance

This essay will be discussing some of the key differences between early dance forms, specifically the French court dances of the 16th and 17th century, and modern Western dance forms. There exists various apparent differences between the two dance forms, where not only do they differ in terms of choreography and style, their main purpose also comes into conflict with one another.

One of the sole reasons of staging a dance performance during the 16th and 17th Century in France was for secular reasons. In fact, it frequently combined 'political motives with the desire for pleasure and diversion'[1] and was meant to 'glorify the state'[2]. A man who used dance as a weapon of state was King Louis XIV of France, who hosted extravagant court dances in his palace to blatantly display his power and opulence to the masses especially to those who wished to challenge his rule. However, dance gradually lost its political slant as aristocratic rule lost its influence over the art form, and it was allowed to develop professionally and hence led to modern day classical ballet. Dance is now, more often than not, a theatre art 'enjoyed for the pleasure of moving with skilled accuracy, of moving with others and for the release of feeling'[3]. Instead of having a political agenda, modern dance could be said to be more concerned with self-expression.

Their differing purposes also affected the methods of dance composition. Early court dances sought to 'fuse all the arts'[4] including 'poetry, music, dance and design'[5] so as to represent 'the harmony of the celestial spheres, as manifested on earth in the government of the ruler'[6]. Choreographers sought to achieve a perfect balance between all the various art forms to create a spectacle that emphasised the greatness of the monarch's rule, where dance was just one part of the big picture that was the performance. Modern dance composition, however, seek to 'create a work of art'[7] where movement of the body is one of its main concern and selectively combines various elements to form something identifiable to the dancer and at times to the audiences too. While a political agenda may be present in the composition of certain modern dance performances, it is however not definitive of the genre as it were in 16th and 17th century France.

The aesthetics of dance also evolved from the 16th century to present day, especially in the costuming. While performers of early court ballet wore cumbersome masks and 'stiff and cumbersome hoops'[8] for dramatic effect, costumes of the modern day favour light-weight and unobtrusive costumes, though they may still be dramatic in design. This may be attributed to the fact that court dances of then required limited movement in comparison to modern dance, hence allowing elaborate costumes to be used.

In conclusion, there are striking differences between Modern and early Western dance forms. However, it would be ignorant to disregard the latter's importance as its proliferation in the 16th and 17th century funded the development of modern popular Western dance forms including Classical ballet and Jazz.

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