Read Summary Account of various Kinds of Dances in different Parts of the World of A Treatise on the Art of Dancing , free online book, by Giovanni-Andrea Gallini, on ReadCentral.com.

In EUROPE.

As almost every country has dances particular to it, or, at least, so naturalized by adoption from others, that in length of time they pass for originals; a slight sketch of the most remarkable of them may serve to throw a light upon this subject, entertaining to some, and both entertaining and useful to others.

In BRITAIN, you have the hornpipe, a dance which is held an original of this country. Some of the steps of it are used in the country-dances here, which are themselves a kind of dance executed with more variety and agreeableness than in any part of Europe, where they are also imitatively performed, as in Italy, Germany and in several other countries. Nor is it without reason they obtain, here the preference over the like in other places. They are no where so well executed. The music is extremely well adapted, and the steps in general are very pleasing. Some foreign comic dancers, on their coming here, apply themselves with great attention to the true study of the hornpipe, and by constant practice acquire the ability of performing it with success in foreign countries, where it always meets with the highest applause, when masterly executed. There was an instance of this, sometime ago at Venice, at an opera there, when the theatre was as well provided with good singers and dancers, as any other. But they had not the good fortune to please the public. A dancer luckily for the manager, presented himself, who danced the hornpipe in its due perfection. This novelty took so, and made such full houses, that the manager, who had begun with great loss, soon saw himself repaired, and was a gainer when he little expected it.

It is to the HIGHLANDERS in North-Britain, that I am told we are indebted for a dance in the comic vein, called the Scotch Reel, executed generally, and I believe always in trio, or by three. When well danced, it has a very pleasing effect: and indeed nothing can be imagined more agreeable, or more lively and brilliant, than the steps in many of the Scotch dances. There is a great variety of very natural and very pleasing ones. And a composer of comic dances, might, with great advantage to himself, upon a judicious assemblage of such steps as he might pick out of their dances, form a dance that, with well adapted dresses, correspondent music, and figures capable of a just performance, could hardly fail of a great success upon the theatre.

I do not know whether I shall not stand in need of an apology for mentioning here a dance once popular in England, but to which the idea of low is now currently annexed. It was originally adapted from the Moors, and is still known by the name of Morris-dancing, or Moresc-dance. It is danced with swords, by persons odly disguised, with a great deal of antic rural merriment: it is true that this diversion is now almost exploded, being entirely confined to the lower classes of life, and only kept up in some counties. What the reason may be of its going out of use, I cannot say; but am very sure, there was not only a great deal of natural mirth in it, but that it is susceptible enough of improvement, to rescue it from the contempt it may have incurred, through its being chiefly in use among the vulgar; though most probably it may have descended among them from the higher ranks. For certainly of them it was not quite unworthy, for the Pirrhic or military air it carries with it, and which probably was the cause of its introduction among so martial a people. Rude, as it was, it might require refinement, but it did not, perhaps, deserve to become quite obsolete.

In SPAIN, they have a dance, called, Les Folies d’Espagne, which is performed either by one or by two, with castanets. There is a dress peculiarly adapted to it, which has a very pleasing effect, as well as the dance itself.

In FRANCE, their Contre-dances, are drawn from the true principles of the art, and the figures and steps are generally very agreeable. No nation cultivates this art with more taste and delicacy. Their Provençale dance, is most delightfully sprightly, and well imagined. The steps seem to correspond with the natural vivacity and gaiety of the Provencals. This dance is commonly performed to the pipe and tabor.

The FLEMISH dances run in the most droll vein of true rural humor. The performers seem to be made for the dances, and the dances for the performers; so well assorted are the figures to the representation. Several eminent painters in the grotesque stile, Teniers especially, have formed many diverting pictures taken from life, upon this subject.

At NAPLES, they have various grotesque dances, which are originals in their kind, being extremely difficult to execute, not only for the variety of the steps, but for the intricacy and uncommonness, or rather singularity of them.

But while I am mentioning Naples, I ought not to omit that effect of dancing, which is attributed to it, upon those who are bitten with the Tarantula. The original of this opinion, was probably owing to some sensible physician, prescribing such a violent motion, more likely to be kept up in the patient, by the power of music, than by any thing else, as might enable him to expel the poison, by being thereby thrown into a copious sweat, and by other benefits from such a vehement agitation. This, it is supposed, was afterwards abused and turned into a mere trick, to assemble a croud and get money, either by sham bites, or by making a kind of show of this method of practice in real ones. However, that may be, the various grimaces or contortions, leaps and irregular steps, commonly used on this occasion, to be executed to that sort of music, or airs adapted to it, might afford a good subject for a grotesque dance, to be formed upon the plan of a burlesque or mock-imitation: and I am not quite sure that the idea of such a dance, has not been already carried into execution.

The castanets the NEAPOLITANS most frequently use, are of the largest size. It is also from Naples that we have taken the Punchinello dance.

At FLORENCE, they have a dance, called, il Treschone. The country-women, in the villages, are very fond of it. They are generally speaking, very robust, and capable of holding out the fatigue of this dance, for a long time. To make themselves more light for it, they often pull off their shoes. The dance is opened by a couple, one of each sex. The woman holds in her hand a handkerchief, which she flings to him whom she chuses for her next partner, who, in his turn has an equal right to dispose of it in the same manner, to any woman of the company he chuses. Thus is the dance carried on without any interruption till the assembly breaks up.

The favorite dance of the VENETIANS, is what they call the Furlana, which is performed by two persons dancing a-round with the greatest rapidity. Those who have a good ear, keep time with the crossing their feet behind; and some add a motion of their hands, as if they were rowing or tugging at an oar. This dance is practiced in several other parts of Italy.

The Peasants of TIROL, have one of the most pleasant and grotesque dances that can be imagined. They perform it in a sort of holy-day dress, made of skins, and adorned with ribbons. They wear wooden shoes, not uncuriously painted; and the women especially express a kind of rural simplicity and frolic mirth, which has a very agreeable effect.

The GRISONS are in possession of an old dance, which is not without its merit, and which they would not exchange for the politest in Europe; they being as invariably attached to it, as to their dress.

The HUNGARIANS are very noisy in their dances, with their iron heels, but when they are of an equal size, and dressed in their uniforms, the agility of their steps, and the regularity of dress in the performers, render them not a disagreeable sight.

The GERMANS have a dance called the Allemande, in which the men and women form a ring. Each man holding his partner round the waist, makes her whirl round with almost inconceivable rapidity: they dance in a grand circle, seeming to pursue one another: in the course of which they execute several leaps, and some particularly pleasing steps, when they turn, but so very difficult as to appear such even to professed dancers themselves. When this dance is performed by a numerous company, it furnishes one of the most pleasing sights that can be imagined.

The POLISH nobility have a dance, to which the magnificence of their dress, and the elegance of the steps, the gracefulness of the attitudes, the fitness of the music, all contribute to produce a great effect. Were it performed here on the theatre, it would hardly fail of a general applause.

The COSSACS, have, amidst all their uncouth barbarism, a sort of dancing, which they execute to the sound of an instrument, somewhat resembling a Mandoline, but considerably larger, and which is highly diverting, from the extreme vivacity of the steps, and the oddity of the contortions and grimaces, with which they exhibit it. For a grotesque dance there can hardly be imagined any thing more entertaining.

The RUSSIANS, afford nothing remarkable in their dances, which they now chiefly take from other countries. The dance of dwarfs with which the Czar Peter the Great, solemnized the nuptials of his niece to the Duke of Courland, was, probably rather a particular whim of his own, than a national usage.

In ASIA.

In TURKY, dances have been, as of old in Greece, and elsewhere instituted in form of a religious ceremony. The Dervishes who are a kind of devotionists execute a dance, called the Semaat in a circle, to a strange wild-simphony, when holding one another by the hand, they turn round with such rapidity, that, with pure giddiness, they often fall down in heaps upon one another.

They have also in Turky, as well as India and Persia, professed dancers, especially of the female sex, under the name of dancing-girls, who are bred up, from their childhood, to the profession; and are always sent for to any great entertainment, public or private, as at feasts, weddings, ceremonies of circumcision, and, in short, on all occasions of festivity and joy. They execute their dances to a simphony of various instruments, extremely resembling the antient ones, the tympanum, the crotala, the cimbals, and the like, as well as to songs, being a kind of small dramatic compositions, or what may properly be called ballads, which is a true word for a song at once sung and danced: ballare signifying to dance; and ballata, a song, composed to be danced. It is probable that from these eastern kind of dances, which are undoubtedly very antient, came the name, among the Romans, of balatrones. Nothing can be imagined more graceful, nor more expressive, than the gestures and attitudes of those dancing-girls, which may properly be called the eloquence of the body, in which indeed most of the Asiatics and inhabitants of the southren climates constitutionally excel, from a sensibility more exquisite than is the attribute of the more northern people; but a sensibility ballanced by too many disadvantages to be envied them. The Siamese, we are told, have three dances, called the Cone, the Lacone, and the Raban. The Cone is a figure-dance, in which they use particularly a string-instrument in the nature of a violin, with some others of the Asiatic make. Those who dance are armed and masked, and seem to be a fighting rather than dancing. It is a kind of Indian Pirrhic. Their masks represent the most frightful hideous countenances of wild-beasts, or demons, that fancy can invent. In the Lacone the performers sing commutually stanzes of verses containing the history of their country. The Raban is a mixed dance, of men and women, not martial, nor historical, but purely gallant; in which the dancers have all long false nails of copper. They sing in this dance, which is only a slow march without any high motions, but with a great many contortions of body and arms. Those who dance in the Raban and Cone have high gilt caps like sugar-loaves. The dance of the Lacone is appropriated to the dedication of their temples, when a new statue of their Sommona-codom is set up.

In many parts of the East, at their weddings, in conducting the bride from her house to the bridegroom’s, as in Persia especially, they make use of processional music and dancing. But, in the religious ceremonies of the Gentoos, when, at stated times, they draw the triumphal car, in which the image of the deity of the festival is carried, the procession is intermixed with troops of dancers of both sexes, who, proceed, in chorus, leaping, dancing, and falling into strange antics, as the procession moves along, of which they compose a part; these adapt their gestures and steps to the sounds of various instruments of music.

Considering withal that the Romans, in their most solemn processions, as in that called the Pompa, which I have before mentioned, in which not only the Pirrhic dance was processionally executed, but other dances, in masquerade, by men who, in their habits, by leaping and by feats of agility, represented satirs, the Sileni, and Fauni, and were attended by minstrels playing on the flute and guitar; besides which, there were Salian priests, and Salian virgins, who followed, in their order, and executed their respective religious dances; it may bear a question whether not an unpleasing use might not be made, on the theatres, of processional dances properly introduced, and connected, especially in the burlesque way. In every country, and particularly in this, processions are esteemed an agreeable amusement to the eye; and certainly they must receive more life and animation from a proper intermixture of dances, than what a mere solemn march can represent, where there is nothing to amuse but a long train of personages in various habits, walking in parade. I only mention this however as a hint not impossible to be improved, and reduced into practice.

But even, where it might be improper or ridiculous to think of mixing dances with a procession, though it were but in burlesque, which must, if at all, be the preferable way of mixing them, the pleasure of those who delight in seeing processions and pageantry exhibited on the theatre, might be gratified, without any violence to propriety, by making them introductory to the dances of the grandest kind. For example; where a dance in Chinese characters is intended, a procession might be previously brought in, of personages, of whom the habits, charactures, and manners might be faithfully copied from nature, and from the truth of things, and convey to the spectator a juster notion, of the people from which the representation was taken, of their dress and public processions, than any verbal description, or even prints or pictures. After which, the dance might naturally take place, in celebration of the festival, of which, the procession might be supposed the occasion.

In order to give a more distinct idea of this hint, I have hereto annexed the print of a Chinese procession taken from the description of a traveller into that country; by which a good composer would well know how to make a proper choice of what might be exhibited, and what was fit to be left out; especially according as the dance should be, serious or burlesque. In the last case; even the horses might be represented by a theatrical imitation. And certainly, bringing the personages on in such a regular procession at first, would give a better opportunity of observing their dresses, than in the huddled, confused manner of grouping them, that has been sometimes practised: to say nothing of the pleasure afforded to the eye by the procession itself.

The print annexed represents the procession of a Chinese Mandarin of the first order. First appear two men who strike each upon a copper instrument called a gongh, resembling a hollow dish without a border, which has pretty much the effect of a kettle-drum.

Follow the ensign-bearers, on whose flags are written in large characters the Mandarin’s titles of honour. Next fourteen standards, upon which appear the proper simbols of his office, such as the dragon, tiger, phoenix, flying tortoise, and other winged creatures of fancy, emblematically exhibited.

Six officers, bearing a staff headed by an oblong square board, raised high, whereon are written in large golden characters the particular qualities of this Mandarin.

Two others bear, the one a large umbrella of yellow silk (the imperial color) of three folds, one above the other; the other officer carries the case in which the umbrella is kept.

Two archers on horseback, at the head of the chief guard: then the guards, armed with large hooks, adorned with silk fringe, in four rows one above another; two other files of men in armor, some bearing maces with long handles; others, maces in the form of a hand, or of a serpent: others, equipped with large hammers and long hatchets like a crescent. Other guards bearing sharp axes: some, weapons like scythes, only strait. Soldiers carrying three-edged halberds.

Two porters, carrying a splendid coffer, containing the seal of his office.

Two other men, beating each a gongh, which gives notice of the Mandarin’s approach.

Two officers, armed with staves, to keep off the croud.

Two mace-bearers with gilt maces in the shape of dragons, and a number of officers of justice, some equiped with bamboes, a kind of flat cudgels, to give the bastinado: others with chains, whips, cutlasses, and hangers.

Two standard-bearers, and the captain of the guard.

All this equipage precedes the Mandarin or Viceroy, who is carried in his chair, surrounded with pages and footmen, having near his person an officer who carries a large fan in the shape of a hand-fire-screen.

He is followed by guards, some armed with maces, and others with long-handled sabres; after whom come several ensigns and cornets, with a great number of domestics on horseback, every one bearing some necessary belonging to the Mandarin: as for example, a particular Tartarian cap, if the weather should oblige him to change the one he has on.

From the above, it may appear, what scope or range a composer may have for the exhibition of processions and pageantry of other nations, as well as of the Chinese; in all which, nothing is more recommendable than adhering, in the representation, as much as the limitations of the theatre will admit, to the truth of things, as they actually pass in the countries where the scene is laid: which is but, in saying other words, in this, as in every other imitative branch, strike to nature as close as possible.

In AFRICA.

The spirit of dancing prevails, almost beyond imagination, among both men and women, in most parts of Africa. It is even more than instinct, it is a rage, in some countries of that part of the globe.

Upon the Gold-coast especially, the inhabitants are so passionately fond of it, that in the midst of their hardest labor, if they hear a person sing, or any musical instrument plaid, they cannot refrain from dancing.

There are even well attested stories of some Negroes flinging themselves at the feet of an European playing on a fiddle, entreating him to desist, unless he had a mind to tire them to death; it being impossible for them to cease dancing, while he continued playing. Such is the irresistible passion for dancing among them.

With such an innate fondness for this art, one would imagine that children taken from this country, so strong-made and so well-limbed as they generally are, and so finely disposed by nature, might, if duly instructed, go great lengths towards perfection in the art. But I do not remember to have heard that the experiment was ever made upon any of them, by some master capable of giving them such an improvement, as one would suppose them susceptible of.

Upon the Gold-coast, there long existed and probably still exists a custom, for the greater part of the inhabitants of a town or village to assemble together, most evenings of the year, at the market-place to dance, sing, and make merry for an hour or two, before bed-time. On this occasion, they appear in their best attire. The women, who come before the men, have a number of little bells tinkling at their feet. The men carry little fans or rather whisks in their hand made of the tails of elephants and horses, much like the brushes used to brush pictures; only that theirs are gilt at both ends. They meet usually about sunset. Their music consists of horn-blowers or trumpeters, drummers, players on the flute, and the like; being placed a-part by themselves. The men and women, who compose the dance, divide into couples, facing each other, as in our country-dances, and forming a general dance, fall into many wild ridiculous postures, advancing and retreating, leaping, stamping on the ground, bowing their heads, as they pass, to each other, and muttering certain words; then snapping their fingers, sometimes speaking loud, at other times whispering, moving now slow, now quick, and shaking their fans.

Artus and Villault add, that they strike each another’s shoulders alternately with those fans; also that the women, laying straw-ropes in circles on the ground, jump into or dance round them; and clicking them up with their toes, cast them in the air, catching them as they fall with their hands.

They are strangely delighted with these gambols; but do not care to be seen at them by strangers, who can scarce refrain laughing, and consequently putting them out of countenance.

After an hour or two spent in this kind of exercise, they retire to their respective homes.

Their dances vary according to times, occurrences, and places. Those which are in honor of their religious festivals, are more grave and serious. There have been sometimes public dances instituted by order of their Kings, as at Abrambo, a large town in Widaw, where annually, for eight days together, there resorted a multitude of both sexes from all parts of the country. This was called the dancing-season. To this solemnity all came dressed in the best manner, according to their respective ability. The dance was ridiculous enough; but it served to keep up their agility of body. And amidst all the uncouth barbarism of their gestures and attitudes, nature breaks out into some expressions of joy, or of the passions, that would not be unworthy of an European’s observation.

They have also their kind of Pirrhic dances, which they execute by mock-skirmishing in cadence, and striking on their targets with their cutlasses.

I have already mentioned that it is from Africa, the Moresc-dances originally came. But what is somewhat surprising, the Portugueze themselves, among whom I will not however include the higher ranks of life in that nation, but, at least, the number of the people who adopted, from the Caffrees, or Negroes of their African possessions, a dance called by them LasChegancas, (Approaches) was so great that the late King of Portugal was obliged to prohibit it by a formal edict. The reason of which was, that some of the motions and gestures had so lascivious an air, and were so contrary to modesty, that the celebrated Frey Gaspar, a natural son, if I mistake not, of the late King of Portugal, represented so efficaciously to his Portugueze Majesty, the shame and scandal of this dance being any longer suffered, that it was put down by royal authority. Nor was this done without occasioning heavy complaints against Frey Gaspar, against whom there were lampoons and ballads publickly sung, upon his having used his influence to procure that prohibition.

In AMERICA.

In this part of the world, so lately discovered, nothing is a stronger proof of the universality of dancing, of its being, in short, rather an human instinct, than an art, than the fondness for dancing every where diffused over this vast continent.

In BRAZIL, the dancers, whether men or women, make a point of dancing bare-headed. The reason of this is not mentioned: it cannot however be thought a very serious one, since nothing can be more comical than their gestures, their contortions of body, and the signs they make with the head to each other.

In MEXICO, they have also their dances and music, but in the most uncouth and barbarian stile. For their simphony they have wooden drums, something in form of a kettle-drum, with a kind of pipe or flageolet, made of a hollow cane or reed, but very grating to an European ear. It is observed they love every thing that makes a noise how disagreeable soever the sound is. They will also hum over something like a tune, when they dance thirty or forty in a circle, stretching out their hands, and laying them on each others shoulders. They stamp and jump, and use the most antic gestures for several hours, till they are heartily weary. And one or two of the company sometimes step out of the ring, to make sport for the rest, by showing feats of activity, throwing up their lances into the air, catching them again, bending backwards, and springing forwards with great agility. Then when they are in a violent sweat, from this exercise, they will frequently jump into the water, without the least bad consequences to their health. Their women have their dancing and music too by themselves; but never mingle in those of the men.

In VIRGINIA, according to the author of the history of that country, they have two different kinds of dancing; the first, either single, or at the most in small companies; or, secondly, in great numbers together, but without having any regard either to time or figure.

In the first kind one person only dances, or two, or three at most. While during their performance, the rest, who are seated round them in a ring, sing as loud as they can scream, and ring their little bells. Sometimes the dancers themselves sing, dart terribly threatening looks, stamp their feet upon the ground, and exhibit a thousand antic postures and grimaces.

In the other dance, consisting of a more numerous company of performers, the dance is executed round stakes set in the form of a circle, adorned with some sculpture, or round about a fire, which they light in a convenient place. Every one has his little bell, his bow and arrow in his hand. They also cover themselves with leaves, and thus equipped, begin their dance. Sometimes they set three young women in the midst of the circle.

In PERU, the manner of dancing has something very particular. Instead of laying any stress on the motion of the arms, in most of their dances, their arms hang down, or are wrapped up in a kind of mantle, so that nothing is seen but the bending of the body, and the activity of the feet; they have however many figure-dances, in which they lay aside their cloaks or mantles, but the graces they add, are rather actions than gestures.

The PERUVIAN Creolians dance after the same manner, without laying aside their long swords, the point of which they contrive to keep up before them so that it may not hinder them from rising, or in coupeeing, which is sometimes to such a degree that it looks like kneeling.

They have a dance there, adopted from the natives, which they call Zapatas, (shoes) because in dancing they alternately strike with the heels and toes, taking some steps, and coupeeing, as they traverse their ground.

Among the savages of North-America, we are told there are various dances practised, such as that of the calumet, the leaders dance, the war-dance, the marriage-dance, the sacrifice-dance, all which, respectively differ in the movements, and some, amidst all the wildness of their performance, are not without their graces. But the dance of the calumet is esteemed the finest; this is used at the reception of strangers whom they mean to honor, or of ambassadors to them on public occasions. This dance is commonly executed in an oval figure.

The AMERICANS, in some parts, prescribe this exercise by way of phisic, in their distempers: a method of treatment, not, it seems unknown to the antients: but, in general, their motive for dancing, is the same as with the rest of the world, to give demonstrations of joy and welcome to their guests, or to divert themselves. On some occasions indeed, they make them part of the ceremony at their assemblies upon affairs, when even their public debates are preceded by dancing, as if they expected that that exercise would rouse their mental faculties, and clear their heads. The war-dance is also used by them, by way of proclamation of war against their enemies.

The foregoing summary sketch of some of the various dances, which are practised in different parts of the globe, and which, to describe universally and minutely, would fill whole volumes, may serve to show that nature has, in all parts of the inhabited world, given to man the instinct of dancing, as well as of speaking, or of singing. But it certainly depends on the nations who encourage the polite arts, once more to carry it up to that pitch of excellence, of which the history of the Greeks and Romans shows it to have been susceptible, among the antients, however the moderns may have long fallen short of it. There has indeed lately appeared a dawning hope of its recovery; which, that it may not be frustrated, is the interest of all who wish well to an innocent and even useful pleasure.