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Dance history is difficult to access because dance does not often leave behind clearly identifiable physical artifacts that last over millennia, such as stone tools, hunting implements or cave paintings. It is not possible to identify with exact precision when dance became part of human culture.

Dance has been an important part of ceremony, rituals, celebrations and entertainment since before the birth of the earliest human civilizations. Archaeology delivers traces of dance from prehistoric times such as the 30,000-year-old Bhimbetka rock shelters paintings in India and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from c. 3300 BC. Dance may have been used as a tool of social interaction that promoted cooperation essential for survival among early humans. Studies found that today's best dancers share two specific genes associated with a predisposition for being good social communicators. Many dances of the early periods were performed to celebrate festivals and on important or seasonal occasions such as crop harvest.


Dancing is historically entwined with many cultures around the world. Here, 17th century Persian women dance in a ceremony in Iran. Dance may be performed in religious or shamanic rituals, for example in rain dance performed in times of drought. Shamans dancing for rain is mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. Dance is an important aspect of some religious rites in ancient Egypt, similarly dance is also integral to many ceremonies and rites among African people. Another early use of dance may have been as a precursor to ecstatic trance states in healing rituals. Dance is used for this purpose by many cultures from the Brazilian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert. Medieval European danses macabres were thought to have protected participants from disease; however; the hysteria and duration of these dances sometimes led to death due to exhaustion.

Sri Lankan dance goes back to the mythological times of aboriginal yingyang twins and "yakkas" (devils). According to a Sinhalese legend, Kandyan dances originated 2500 years ago, from a magic ritual that broke the spell on a bewitched king. Many contemporary dance forms can be traced back to historical, traditional, ceremonial, and ethnic dances. One of the earliest structured uses of dances may have been in the performance and in the telling of myths. It was also sometimes used to show feelings for one of the opposite gender. It is also linked to the origin of "love making." Before the production of written languages, dance was one of the methods of passing these stories down from generation to generation.

In European culture, one of the earliest records of dancing is by Homer, whose "Iliad"; describes chorea (χορεία khoreia). The early Greeks made the art of dancing into a system, expressive of all the different passions. For example, the dance of the Furies, so represented, would create complete terror among those who witnessed them. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, ranked dancing with poetry, and said that certain dancers, with rhythm applied to gesture, could express manners, passions, and actions.[citation needed] The most eminent Greek sculptors studied the attitude of the dancers for their art of imitating the passion.

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