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Religious and spiritual dimensions of dance in old Egypt


The sources show that as early as 5th millennium B.C. dancing was one of the most important and most common forms of social interaction in Egypt. The development and social changes during Neolithic, firstly population increase which led to the growth of settlements, development of agriculture, led to the origin of rituals and cults in which dance became an important factor. Most findings depicting dance were found on ceramic pots and figurines which were part of grave goods. First dancing figure was recorded during the Badari culture – hands with bent palms raised above the head. Many dancing scenes on reliefs and walls of tombs of the Old Kingdom emphasise the importance of funeral dance for Ancient Egyptians. It is possible that such dances evolved from dancing performances of the pre-dynastic era, and that they formed into specified moves, performed during funeral processions, during the Old Kingdom. Egyptians held their religion and worship of many deities dearly, so tributes and sacrifices were offered to them on festivals. Important parts of those festivals were dancing performances, most commonly by temple’s female and male dancers. Such performances were often accompanied with singing and dancing. The most well-known deities in whose honour dances were performed were Hathor, Amon- Ra, Bes, Bastet, Osiris and Isis. The dances of the Middle Kingdom retained the old forms, but they also adopted some new characteristics. More and more acrobatic elements were introduced into dancing performances of funeral ceremonies and cult festivals. Also, during this time, physical fitness, strength and more demanding dancing skills started to be appreciated more. Female dancers started to attach importance to slenderness of the body and flexibility, so they started working out more. The dances of the New Kingdom differ substantially from the dances of earlier periods. Albeit old dancing forms are performed, the dances changed and they became more complex. New elements emerged which are manifested in greater freedom of dance moves. Albeit funeral and cult dances remained the most popular types, this period also witnessed the emergence of secular dances which take erotic characteristics and which are performed by professional male and female dancers. Graphic displays of dancing performances during the Late Period are rare; however, they are sporadically mentioned in texts, hymns and songs and the temples of Efu, Esna, Dendera and File. Albeit during the Late Period Egypt was ruled by foreign dynasties, the Egyptians still built in Egyptian style and cultivated their culture.

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