Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/761

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741
THE EVOLUTION OF DANCING.

of defiance or rage, and they survived in the military dances of the Greeks and Romans. Thirdly, we have religious dances of various kinds. They are arranged usually by "medicine-men" or priests; they are magical in character, and are connected with some rite or superstition. The savage invariably confounds dancing with religion. His most elaborate dances are associated with mystery-plays, setting forth in action the story of some traditional event or some deity. The leaders of the revels are medicine-men or chiefs.

Now, it is a matter of common report that uncivilized people spend half their time in dancing. Thus, we read that the chief occupation of the Indians of southern California used to be dancing when the men were not engaged in procuring food.[1] The Spaniards have been noted for their saltatory expertness, and yet Cortes and his followers were surprised to find the art so much in favor in Mexico. The Spanish historian Herrera says that in dancing "no part of the world exceeds New Spain." He adds, "though many of those dances were performed in honor of their gods, the first institution of them was for the diversion of the people, and therefore they learned the same from their childhood and were singularly exact."[2]

Aside from the speculation as to "the institution" of dancing, the phrase "singularly exact" is here worthy of some notice; for it is a mistake to suppose that the savage dances hap-hazard, without any rule of action. On the contrary, the "medicine-dances" of the Indians are danced in a certain, definite way. Whether it be for rain, for green corn, or for success in the chase, the dancer follows the steps and paces fixed and regulated by tradition or custom.

Let me observe that mystic dance is a serious business. It behooves the dancer to be "singularly exact" when a faux pas would result in his death. This point is very strongly put by Dr. Franz Boas, who studied the dances of the coast tribes of British Columbia. Among the Kwakiutl Indians, "any mistake made by a singer or dancer is considered opprobrious. At certain occasions the dancer who makes a mistake is killed."[3] The ancient Mexicans did not mind putting an awkward dancer out of the way, and the savage practice has been found in one or two other parts of the world.

The punishment does not seem so severe, when we consider the cruel rites and initiations a dancer must pass through, ere he knows the secrets of the order or of his tribe. The savage is great on fierce initiations. He joins this or that secret order, this or


  1. United States Geological Survey west of the One Hundredth Meridian, vol. vii, p. 29.
  2. History of America, vol. iii, p. 227.
  3. Journal of American Folk Lore, vol. i, p. 51.