Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/773

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
753
THE EVOLUTION OF DANCING.

paying his court to Anne of Austria, by performing a saraband before her in jester's dress of green velvet, with bells on his feet and castanets in his hands![1]

Long after dancing became secularized, it remained part and parcel of divine services. Gregory Thaumaturgus introduced prancing into Christian ritual; and Scaliger derives præsules—a name given to the bishops—from a præsiliendo, from the fact of their "skipping first," or leading the clergy, in the altar dances. In the middle ages the Mystery Plays were simply choral dances and songs. There were biblical stories and "moral lessons" told to the folk. The famous Dance of Death was a popular spectacular play, in which pope, cardinal, king, prince, and pauper were invited by the gay and festive skeleton to dance with him, and there was no alternative. Finally, as a survival from the mediæval Church, we have the Corpus Christi dances, which were performed until within late years by the congregation in the Seville Cathedral.[2]

The orgiastic impulse is one of the wildest and most rebellious passions in human nature. It is continually breaking through the thin veneer that civilization supplies. It has shown itself at different times in Europe.[3] This "passion of Dionysus" takes possession of the folk, of the people in the country, on heath or by sea. The impulse which seizes girls in modern Greece is so strong that they dance themselves to death on the hills. The dancers are victims of the Nereids, say the peasants. In ancient Greece, as Mr. Lang observes, they would have been saluted as the nurses and companions of Dionysus, and their disease would have been hallowed by religion.[4]

It needed only a young Cheyenne to fall into a trance, to dream that he had seen and talked with the Christ, to proclaim himself a prophet of the new religion, to begin dancing in fast and furious fashion—it needed only this to start the "Messiah craze" in the fall of 1890.[5] The dancing mania soon seized the Indians, and, within a month, the Cheyennes, Pawnees, Comanches, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Wichitas, and other smaller tribes were performing the "dance to Christ," called by the whites the "Ghost


  1. In the days of Queen Bess—the queen herself an adept in the art "the grave Lord Keeper led the brawls," without losing his own respect and dignity.
  2. In the autos sacramentales, or miracle plays, dancing was introduced in honor of the sacrament. The little choir boys of the cathedral still dance before the Host every evening at five o'clock.
  3. See Leeky's Rationalism in Europe, vol. i, p. 77, for the "dancing mania" of Flanders and Germany.
  4. Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol. ii, p. 241.
  5. Miss Alice Fletcher says the "craze" would have died out had it not been for the medicine-men or conjurers, who "multiplied stories and marvels."—Journal of American Folk Lore, vol. iv, p. 60. vol. xll. 54