The 5 Most Curious Ancient Dances We Know Of!


Dance is one of the most natural forms of self-expression that we know today. Its history is contested, the origin of most dance forms being unrecorded or vague.  Where the evidence of dance being one of the most ancient art forms exists with us, some dances have been documented for centuries now. Notwithstanding the fact that a few of these are now anachronistic, we take you to a tour of five wonderfully mysterious ancient dances that have been documented and some of which, luckily, are still performed.

Dancing with the dead

The 5 Most Curious Ancient Dances We Know Of!

Wikimedia commons/Unknown photographer of original, copy by J T Demitz for Ristesson

The ancient ritual of Famidihana is observed by some ethnic groups of Madagascar. Every five to seven years, these groups honour their dead by exhuming their remains and bringing them out for community festivities. In this spooky ancient ritual, people remove their deceased relatives from crypts, peel off their old burial clothes and wrap them in fresh silk ones. The festivities start with alcohol, conversations and picking up the dead bodies and dancing with them while they decompose. Right before sunset, the bodies are returned to the tomb and placed upside down. The crypt is shut for the next five to seven years.

Spider-bite therapy

The 5 Most Curious Ancient Dances We Know Of!
Wikimedia Commons / Thomas Uwins – Art UK 

Tarantella is a group of  folk dances characterized by agility and is accompanied by tambourines

 In the Italian province of Taranto, Apulia, the bite of a  common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula” was believed to be venomous. It was thought that this bite could  lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. This became known as the Tarantella. The Tarantella was actually an ancient cult dance form. In 186 BC, the tarantella went underground (because it was banned previously), and reappeared  under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims.

It was, of course, later found out that the whole thing was a fad and the spider bite led only to a little swelling, not mania.

Dance unto death

The 5 Most Curious Ancient Dances We Know Of!
The dancing mania Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The dancing mania Engraving 1642 By: Hondiusafter: Pieter BrueghelDie Medizin in der Klassischen Malerei Eugen Hollander Published: 1923 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Dancing Mania that hit  mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries was an insane social phenomenon where people just couldn’t stop dancing.  

Men, women, children – once they started would only stop when they fell down from exhaustion. Groups of peopls could be found out on the streets, dancing erratically, without much care. There was a recorded case of a bridge falling apart, the ones “infected” with dancing mania falling with it and hence, dancing to their death. Although this was firstly blamed on(and thought of as being confined to) women, it was discovered that it affected men, women and children just alike. Sometimes, when one couldn’t stop dancing, it led to their death from exhaustion.

Psychologists have called the Dancing Mania an outlet for stress that was caused by a number of natural disasters during that time.

The dance of destruction

The 5 Most Curious Ancient Dances We Know Of!

Known as the most aggressive form of dance, the Rudra Tandava is believed to have been performe by the Hindu God Shiva(known often as the Nataraja, the God of Dance). 

Shiva’s Rudra Tandava is a vigorous dance –  the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. In the ancient Indian texts, Shiva is said to have a third eye which, when opened, results in the destruction of the world.  Tandava depicts his violent nature as the destroyer of the universe.

Horn Dance

The 5 Most Curious Ancient Dances We Know Of!
Wikimedia commons/hor Mariegriffiths

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is one of the oldest surviving traditions of England, being performed every year since the 13th Century. The folk dance consists of six deer dancers, a fool, a bowman, a hobby horse and Maid Marian – all played by men(did we get you too excited for a moment there?), including the fair maiden. First performed at the Barthelny Fair in the 1220s, this dance involved costumed men dancing around the village carrying reindeer antlers. 

The dancers collect horns from the Church on the day of performance and dance to music for 10miles. In the evening, they return the horns. 

This dance has only been cancelled twice in 794 years(!!!), Once because a dancer died, and recently in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Have you ever seen these curious dances? Tell us!

If you liked this, check out Funniest Superstitions From Around The World!


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