Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/771

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THE EVOLUTION OF DANCING.

or that myth, which is represented in a dance or ballet d'action.[1] This brings us to the point we would be at. The medicine-dances develop into mystery plays, setting forth this or that myth, which in turn reached artistic development in the old Greek drama.

The most striking example of barbaric drama is that of "The Mountain Chant" of the Navajo Indians. The ceremonial, lasting nine days, presents in a dance or series of dances a myth of tribal history, beginning at a time when the Navajo became a distinct people.[2] The significance of the "chant" has been stated concisely by Major J. W. Powell: "This ceremony dramatizes the myth with rigorously prescribed paraphernalia and formularies, with picturesque dances and shows, scenic effects, and skillful thaumaturgic jugglery. It is noticeable also that here the true popular drama is found in the actual process of evolution from religious mysteries or miracle plays. . . . It is to be remarked that the Shaman has become the professional and paid artist and stage manager, under whom is gathered a traveling corps of histrions and scenic experts."[3]

Here is the proper place to observe that dancing has a bearing on the development of the social order. The medicine-men or priests gain and retain political and social powers through their skill in leading the dance. According to Mr. Beckwith, "the high priest in the religious ceremonies of the Dakotas is invariably a chief who, through these dances, retains his influence in the tribe."Thus, dancing gives sanction to the powers of the chief, and is one of the necessary qualifications for the office. It is thus associated with position and rank. In the Vedic age (2000 b. a), before the rigid division of castes, the priests were leaders of the dance at the festivals.[4] Later on they became all-powerful Brahmans. The Homeric chiefs were distinguished dancers. Lucian says that Troy was taken, Zeus was saved, and Ariadne ruined by a dance. And David led the dance before the ark. The ancients regarded dancing as a necessary accomplishment. Socrates learned the art in his old age; while Plato, in his Commonwealth, advocated the establishment of dancing schools. The Romans celebrated their victories and pastoral festivals by elaborate dances. They excelled in pantomime dances, from which the ballet was evolved.[5] A The Emperor Domitian forbade


  1. Custom and Myth, p. 42.
  2. A description of the ceremonies, together with sketches, has been furnished by Dr. Washington Matthews (Fifth Report Ethnology, pp. 385-468). (Fifth Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. xlvi.
  3. Smithsonian Report, 1886, Part I, p. 245.
  4. Weber, p. 37.
  5. A Until early in the seventeenth century the performers in the ballet were men.