by Sun Jingchen, Luo Xiongyan, Zi Huayun
Journey into the Past

A Brief Review of Ancient Dances

... Dance is an important part of the ancient Chinese term "Yue" , which is a comprehensive art form. Ancient Chinese believed that, "Poems express thoughts and feelings, songs put them into sound, and dances manifest their external features. All three originate from one's heart, with musical instruments they are then performed." Hence Yue includes [the] elements [of] poems, songs, dances and music. At its birth, this ancient art was all in one. The present division of songs, music and dances was gradually formed through a long course of development.

Since its birth, this primitive art form has become a loyal companion of mankind on his passage from childhood to adulthood, from ignorance to enlightenment. During this process, different societies and cultures in different periods all left their prints or deep marks in the art of music and dance. Thus, the ancient dance culture offers extensive fields and viewpoints for research and explorations on not only art history, but also the forms of human production, living style, religions, folk customs, ethics, morality, aesthetic views, even the political culture.

Within music and dance are the deepest consciousness of national spirits. China has a vast territory and has many nationalities. The diversified natural environment and cultural traditions together with different developing processes have painted a magnificent [picture of] the Chinese dance culture. Chinese dance is no doubt the fruit of the Chinese nation's wisdom and soul combined.

The ancient dance of China went through embryo and childhood stages in a primitive society. It became ripe [around] the Bronze Age. Through further development in the Feudal society, especially after the Han Dynasty, the dance culture reached its peak in the Tang Dynasty. After the Song Dynasty, it entered a transformation period as a result of the changes in the entire art field.

Chinese dance possesses numerous types, with each nationality, each region and each type of dance carrying unique features and flavors. Yet it is also easy to discover that Chinese dance is actually an integral body with common spirits and views. The frequent communication and assimilation between different ethnic groups and regions, the different dance fields between entertainment for others and self-entertainment, professional and amateur, religious and worldly, royal and grassroots, etc., have all melted and become one in another. Dances for rituals, performances, social contacts, education, clans, trades, etc., all take up an important and indispensable place in the garden of dances...

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