In Search of Dance Origins

What are the origins of this moving and powerful dance, so rich with layers of meaning? Why are we drawn so naturally to search for these origins, and how can we best answer our own questions?

When we are moved by something that is beautiful, or terrible, or vitally important to our souls, it is human nature to try to understand it. One of the ways we look for this meaning is to try to find or imagine its origins. We sense that, if we can find its ultimate beginning, perhaps we will also find its deepest truth — a truth that will open up the wellspring of our own creative power. Our search for origins has inspired some of our most brilliant insights. It inspires us to trace our genealogies, explore the intricacies of cell biology or evolution, and seek the ultimate source of all matter in the depths of space-time. It inspires our philosophy and religion, from the Navajo stories of Changing Woman to the seven days of Yahweh’s creation to the presocratic philosophers’ exploration of the elements of earth, air, water and fire. The search for the origins of what we hold to be precious and magnificent is fundamental to our way of understanding the world. So it is natural that those of us who treasure Middle Eastern dance and want to understand it more fully should seek out its origins.

But much as we long for an ancient beginning-place, it is difficult for us to uncover the true past. Time is the most elusive element, passing by and leaving emptiness in it wake. History is almost entirely intangible. Our ancestors have left us some material remains, visual images, poems and stories — relics of surpassing beauty which inspire our own lives and creations. But the vast majority of what was valuable and meaningful about the past has completely gone. We will never know the names, daily pastimes, feelings, hopes, and dreams of the people who went before us, never hear their songs or see their dances. If we could see them as they were — humans like ourselves, living lives both hauntingly the same and hauntingly different — perhaps we could find the origins we seek.

But we can’t. And in our ancestors’ absence, we fall into habits of thinking that mar our search for the origins of this ancient dance. One is that we tend to see the past as more simple than the present, and to imagine that today’s complexity is a development from something more primitive and unified. Another is that we tend to use the past as a justification for present views or practices — we want to see our own ideas and practices as correct and natural, so we are easily distracted from the wide, confusing perspective of real history and slip into historical myths. Only when we have come to terms with these tendencies in our thinking will we be able to explore the history of this dance, and form an accurate, respectful relationship with the women and men of the past whose dance was the precursor of our own.

Read the rest of the paper here:In Search of the Origins of Dance by Andrea Deagon, Ph.D.


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