The Origins of Dance The earliest history of human dance is a continuing mystery. From the evidence of illustrated ceramic fragments, some archaeologists have speculated that dance originated some 5,000 to 9,000 years ago in early agricultural cultures located in a swath running from modern Pakistan to the Danube basin. Others, however, have expressed caution regarding the reconstruction of social behavior from such sources. Speculation aside, specific knowledge of prehistoric dances is lacking, and thus many experts have extrapolated dance history from the preserved ritual dances of various preliterate societies.
The Development of Dance in Europe 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. 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