Dance appreciation begins with looking at dance as an art, which typically relied on its preservation by being passed down through observation and oral traditions (Allison Cartegena, 2018). Social dances have influenced or been influenced by society, the way people dance is dependent on the time period and what is culturally acceptable to that particular group of people. (Kassing, N.D.) The social dances of focus for analysis are morris dances, flamenco, waltz, and tango. The Laban Movement Analysis will be the benchmark for how each social dance is evaluated and how they will be compared and contrasted. An aspect of dance that is important to convey is why does this dance matter, and also how did it affect the group of people directly or indirectly involved. Although social dances can break down barriers between different cultures, some have caused controversy and scandal by being subversive and suggestive.
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Flamenco dance is a highly-expressive, Spanish dance form. The flamenco is an individual dance characterized by hand clapping, rhythmic footwork, and intricate hand, arm, and body movements (Bedinghaus, 2018). This social dance is a combination of dance steps “with the Andalusian folklore, folk songs, and instruments of Mozarabic origin. Instruments like tambourines, finger cymbals known as ‘Castanets’, and other tuneful musical instruments are also an integral part of the dance form” (“Fascinating Facts about Flamenco,” 2018). This richness makes flamenco an extremely passionate dance form, which touches the deepest of human emotions. Flamenco has more than 50 musical styles known as “palos,” classified on the basis of their rhythmic patterns, modes, geographic origin, chord progression, and the formation of stanzas (“Fasinating Facts about Flamenco,” 2018).
Watching flamenco is a mesmerizing experience, the video of the Spanish gypsy dancer (Il Vagabondo, 2012) performing in a small intimate venue showcased the powerful free flow and changes between sudden and sustained movement related to the tempo of the music. The female dancer wore a proper flamenco dressed named ‘Bata de Cola’ in an exquisite purple/pink lilac color with white polka dots, her facial gestures and hand motions are a defining, unique quality to flamenco dancing. The spotlight of flamenco is the stomping of the feet in a rhythmic matter, it is evident as the dancer is holding her dress to the side so the audience can view the rapid movement of her feet. (Il Vagabondo, 2012) The dancer uses axial movement with the viewers focus on the body shape of the dancer as a whole and looking at her wrists flicking in a sequential pattern as they move from her upper to lower body then quickly whip both arms out simultaneously. Incorporating space with direct pathways as she dances along the small floor space the focus of the dancer is mainly straight ahead with no eye contact with the audience, although at specific points the dancer’s focus will lash to her feet as she is pouncing out to the floor with heavy weight in terms of effort. Another example of flamenco dance is of the Youtube video filmed at “Flamenco Dance Show during dinner at El Palacio Andaluz, Seville, Spain” (Ling Daisly, 2011, Youtube), a professional concert performance with stage lighting and a larger music band. The use of small castanets by the female dancer adds an elegant layer of melody to her dancing. The change from active to passive weight in tandem with the live music helps to invoke emotion in the audience as well as keep them engaged in the performance. This video stood out to me because of the dancer’s use of her peripheral kinesphere by drawing out her arm and holding the position to the beat of the music was fantastic artistry.
“When the waltz first whirled through the ballrooms of Vienna, it caused an outrage and marked a decisive shift in European social customs,” (Del Hierro, 2017) what a surprising fact to learn because in the present day the waltz seems formal and only used in setting of grand display of provenance. Its name comes from walzen, “to turn” in German and may have developed out of the folk music of Austria’s simple village peasants. By the late 1700s the waltz spread throughout Europe, with the dance being particularly popular among young people from the wealthy middle classes, a sharp departure to the minuet dances of the time period where, dancers would be an arm width apart and had strict rigid choreography. (Del Hierro, 2017) The waltz is a smooth dance that travels counter clockwise around the dance floor with a ¾ music speed with some variations going quicker or slower. (dancetime.com, ND)
Concentrating on the origins of the waltz, the video of a group of people dancing in couples showcases the Viennese waltz which it can be clearly seen how up close the dancers are to each other. (Aaron1912, 2010) The waltz is a dance that has a lead and a follow, mainly male and female taking those roles respectively. The lead stands straight up with the back erect and their gaze looking away from the partner usually turning it the direction of movement. The follow holds onto the lead while leaning away and tilting the head to show submission to the lead. Elements of the shape of the waltz is best described as pin like movements with rising and falling motions. It can be seen that the waltz needs a large dance floor because of how long the strides are taken by the dancers, this is important to note due the distinct locations people had to go to in order to participate (ballrooms). The quality of the kinesphere is traverse because the arms of the dancers are held out but not fully extended therefore emphasizing the in between space. (Aaron 1912, 2010)
The origin of Morris dancing is not known, attempts to discover the origins of the dances suggests, is that they are of pagan origin performed as part of ancient fertility rites. The music and dances were perhaps intended to attract beneficial influences, while the bells, fluttering handkerchiefs, and clashing sticks served as the means to scare away malevolent spirits. (Cole, Britainnia, 2015) It survives today as a form of folk dance performed in the open air in villages in rural England by groups of specially chosen and trained men and women. (Cole, Britainnia, 2015) There are many types of morris dancing varying on the region of England that the dance is from, the general form is a group dance of people wearing bells around their calves, as well as holding a stick they are both used to interact with one another in the group. ([Videowl HD], 2013) The dance is done in simultaneous movement with galloping and hopping in direct and indirect pathways. There is usually a live band playing folk instruments, so the dancers can follow to the music.
Tango, the music and the dance, has a complex history, its development follows the social and economic growth of Argentina and Uruguay, in particular the area of Rio de la Plata and its triangle of Buenos Aires (Cecolli, 2013). Eloquently stated by Cecolli (2013) on the history of the tango, “Its roots seem to date back to the 1870’s when a version of it was danced by Black slaves to the fused rhythms of Habanera (Cuban) and Candombe (Afro-Uruguayan) music.” It was the dance of the poor, and marginalized, danced in the outskirts of the cities, and not accepted in upper classes. (Cecolli, 2013) They came from Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland and Greece, and settled in the edges of Buenos Aires. According to Cecolli (2013) tango was raw and sexual, as the connectedness of limbs representing the sexual encounter. With few women around tango dancing moved to brothels, where women choose clients by dancing with them, the male had three songs to prove himself worthy (Meier, 2015). Men had to dance with each other in order to refine their tango skills as it became a type of social currency. (Meizer, 2015) The music orchestra was based on the instruments; guitar, violin, harp and flute and the later incorporation of the piano and the Argentine bandonion (a symbol of tango). In tango there is a leader and a follow, roles that traditionally have been assigned to the man and the woman respectively (Cecolli, 2013). Although, tango was initially danced between men who alternated roles, so it really is about masculine and feminine energies in communication, no matter the actual gender of the dancers (Cecolli, 2013). Adding to that evidence, “This requires physical awareness and sensitivity, a subtle exchange of mutual understanding through the embrace that literally moves the center of balance from two separate individuals to one-the couple” (Cecolli, 2013), emphasizing the immense exchange that happens between both dancers.
The tango became a world-wide sensation in 1910 when wealthy sons of Argentina shared the dance form with Parisian elite who adamantly fell in love with it (Meier, 2015). Once that happened high class Argentines accepted the tango and it became accepted (Meier, 2015). Attire worn by female dancers were long skirts with slits, that may have had fringe on the bottom and the iconic nylon stockings with high heels that had two straps, one around the ankle and the other down the top of the foot (Meier, 2015). It is customary to wear a flower in the hair if it is a special occasion or show. Male dancers wear silk dress shirts and cuff-less trousers, so the female’s heel will not get caught in the cuff, and dress shoes (Meier, 2015). Imagery of tango dancing that is common to the public, is the woman fallen over with the man holding her tightly, this has multiple meanings such as, that the woman is suddenly in “fallen in love” with the male due to the connection shared, that the woman has been killed by revenge (“she has fallen”) because the male had unrequited love by the female choosing another man over him ([Geobeats], 2011), and lastly for the female brothel worker as her position is society as a “fallen woman” (Meier, 2015).
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Argentine tango can be stylized by either an open or closed embrace with the dancers’ chests being closer together than their hips. There are three steps that develop, the lead initiates the dance to begin, the follow takes a step backward, while the lead steps forward. This is evident in the YouTube video of street Argentine tango uploaded by Olivier Frelastre. The movement of the feet of the dancers’ is a brushing of the floor with their feet as one leg passes the other in a counter-clock wise fashion (Meier, 2015). In the video (Frelastre, 2014), the free flow and sustained movement captivates the audience, and held up pin shapes to a gliding dip that changed briefly a wall shape form, makes the dance entertaining to watch.
The power of social dance in history and society cannot be more apparent as they are constantly influencing one another. Each social dance detailed so far has a key similarity that they all are the most authentic when live music is played as the dancers perform. The tango and waltz have the similarity because both dances require a partner, and the way the dancers stand in a close embrace is also the same. As for morris dance and flamenco, they differ from the waltz and tango by one being a group dance and the other a single person dance. A striking similarity between the tango and flamenco is that the origins of the dances are credited to marginalized and impoverished people. Dances across history have caused controversy because the upper class viewed the dance as vulgar and unrefined this is true for the waltz, tango and flamenco, these dances were slowly accepted over time as more people were exposed to it which meant the elite would dance it. A difference between flamenco and tango, is flamenco uses intricate feet stomping variations that change with the music tempo and tango motions of the feet are sustained and utilize a dragging and brushing motion across the floor that also are changing with the timing of the music. The way waltz and morris dance can be compared is that the effort is direct movement with galloping and hopping motions, both dances emulate a feeling of cheerfulness.
The social dances analyzed, the waltz, the tango, flamenco and morris dances have all contributed to society today as they are all remembered to varying degrees. The dances have been informative to the time period each pertains to. The dances provide insight how people viewed the dance and therefor social norms, what was ok to do in public and what viewed as subversive. Reflecting on how society views dance today and many of these dances are not seen in the same bias, it begs the question, what social dance(s) do we in the present day accept and disapprove of.
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