A model of five major chronological phases is suggested for the history of human dance. These phases did not replace one another, but accumulated as successive layers. The earliest phase is associated with courtship, thus explaining the potent role of dance in sexual desire and seduction. The second phase is associated with the appearance of modern human behaviour and the earliest burials, which were rites of passage that involved the first communal dances. The third phase is associated with the appearance of hybrid human-animal figurines that point to altered states of consciousness and aspirations to change reality; this is when trance dance, shamanism, magic and religion came in. The fourth phase is connected with the beginning of agriculture in Neolithic villages, which was coordinated by elaborate calendrical ceremonies. The fifth and final phase is associated with urban societies, economic complexity and specialization; well-trained professional dancers now performed acrobatic body movements and elaborate choreography for the enjoyment of others. The history of dance thus reflects the history of human rituals and religion.
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© 2017 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.