When people move in time to music, they are dancing. As they dance, they organize their body movements into rhythmic and visual patterns. These dance patterns may be formal, with structured steps and movements, or informal, a natural style of dance known as IMPROVISATION.
People have a natural urge to move in time to music. They dance to celebrate an event, or for entertainment and relaxation. Dance is an important part of many religions. Around the world, many folk dances (popular local dances) mark the stages of life, such as birth and death.
Classical dance is historic and takes many years to learn. Western classical dance is called ballet and combines dance with mime (silent acting). It began in Europe in the 15th century. Countries such as India and Thailand also have great classical dance traditions. CHOREOGRAPHY is used to create classical dance.
Pointe shoes are made stiff with paper and burlap to allow ballerinas to dance on tiptoe.
Unlike classical dance, improvised dance has no formal steps, although it can be choreographed. Improvisation is the basis of contemporary, or modern, dance. In it, dancers express their feelings in their movements to create a highly personal, natural performance.
Contemporary dance began at the start of the 20th century when US dancer Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) broke away from ballet and developed her own, more natural style. Contemporary dance has many different styles, some of them closely linked to music, such as jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop.
Choreography is the arrangement of dance steps and movements into an organized sequence (order). This means that every dancer knows exactly what steps to perform throughout the performance. Dance is usually choreographed to music.
Folk dances, such as Scottish reels and Spanish flamenco, are not choreographed. However, they do have traditional steps that have developed over centuries and have been passed down through the generations to the present day. Each dancer learns the dance by heart and knows which move to make in time to the music.
Choreographed dance steps must be written down so that they can be remembered over time. The most common recording system, called Benesh Movement Notation, was developed in the 1940s by Rudolf and Joan Benesh. Each movement is recorded with symbols on a five-line diagram. The diagram is combined with the musical notation so that both can be read together.
A choreographer works closely with a dance group to create a new dance, designing steps that show off the skills and strengths of the individual dancers. Steps are memorized by counting them out into sequences. Choreographers have usually been dancers themselves.
Swan Lake (1895) is a famous ballet and was created by the French choreographer Marius Petipa, the Russian choreographer Lev Ivanov, and the music composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Based on a German fairy tale, it tells the story of Princess Odette, who is turned into a swan by an evil magician.