In medieval Europe the repeated outbreaks of dance mania, a form of mass hysteria sometimes caused by religious frenzy and usually associated with epidemics of bubonic plague, are reflected in the allegory of the dance of death (see Death, Dance of). Dancing as a social activity and a form of entertainment is of relatively recent origin. During the Middle Ages, especially in France, dancing was a feature of the more enlightened and convivial courts. Some medieval dances, such as the volta, precursor of the waltz, became the sources of modern dance steps. In the 16th cent. two types of dance were popular, the solemn and stately dances performed at the court of Charles IX and the lively peasant dances.
The ballet first appeared in Italian courts in the 16th cent., and it became popular in France, especially during the reign of Louis XIV. Among the formal dances of the 17th cent. were the courante, saraband, pavan, minuet, gavotte, quadrille (or contredanse), and cotillion. Music, which had developed to accompany dancing, had, by this time, evolved many forms and rhythms no longer associated with the dance. French dances made their way to England in the 17th cent. where variations of the morris dance were frequently performed in villages and small towns.
Popular national dances include the mazurka and polonaise from Poland; the czardas from Hungary; the fandango, bolero, seguidilla, and flamenco from Spain; the tarantella and saltarello from Italy; the waltz and galop from Germany; the polka and schottische from Bohemia; the strathspey and Highland fling from Scotland; the hornpipe from England; and the jig from Ireland.
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