The Dance History Gallery

curated by Alkis Raftis


1. Guidelines

2. The fields

3. Introduction






1. Guidelines


1.1. Try different spellings

1.2. Type only one word in a field



2. The fields


ARTIST: Name of artist. Given name, then family name (country of birth, year of birth - year of death).

TITLE OF WORK: Title of work in English (title in the language of origin).

TYPE OF WORK: Type of work: painting, drawing, sculpture, print etc. Material: canvas, marble, ceramic etc. Technique.

DATE: Year work was made or presented. For B.C. dates with negative prefix.

DIMENSIONS: Dimensions of original work in cm. Height x width x length

COMMENTS: Other data on the work, remarks by the compiler.

LOCALITY OF REFERENCE: Country, place or culture related to the subject of the work.

DANCE FORM: Type of dance depicted or presumed.

KEYWORDS: Words on the subject not contained in the Title, to help in retrieval.



3. Introduction


Less than a third of the works in this gallery, mostly prints, belong to me. The rest has been scanned from books, postcards, auction catalogues, museum albums and other publications. Owners of original works who wish them to be removed from this website can simply ask me to do so.


I have tried to provide a useful tool for dance researchers and others interested in the History of Dance. Thirty years ago, when I started, I realized that historians having preceded me relied mainly on written sources, while there was so much to learn from works of art. At that time books on the general history of dance dealt mostly with ballet and stage dance in Europe. The most notable exception, World History of the Dance by Curt Sachs, though treating various forms of dance in many countries, was entirely based on texts.


Since then I have divided equally my time between reading, field observation of the present, and studying visual material from the past. Painters and sculptors have always been thrilled by dancers, mostly professional ones, and have left a wealth of works depicting them. The first difficulty is finding a sufficient number of works or art from the same place and the same period so as to obtain a reliable picture. With a small number there is a risk of generalizing in the wrong direction. The second difficulty lays in interpreting them. Every form of art uses conventions, different ones at each period. One needs to decipher the conventions of the painter as well as the ones of the dancer, to 'readí the work in sight.


I am convinced that the evolution of dance in each country runs in two parallel streams, amateur and professional, each stream influencing the other but always maintaining its autonomy. Authors of Dance History books seem to take a different view - they consider amateur dance as a primitive form from which professional form has evolved.


To clarify the terms I use, amateur dance includes traditional dance (passed from one generation to another in villages), folk dance (traditional forms transported in cities for recreation and performance by youth ensembles) and popular dance (particular to city people). Professional dance, on the other hand, is practiced by artists who have taken a longer time to learn it since it is much more elaborate and meant for stage performances only. The crucial feature of distinction is whether a dance form requires considerable instruction under a specialized teacher, or can be simply passed from one amateur to another.


Stage (or theatrical) dance forms dominate the attention of authors, researchers and historians, while amateur forms are treated as simplistic, thus inferior. All forms convey beauty of movement but the beauty of amateur dance is more subtle and elusive. It is influenced by the personal relationships between dancers and conveys social norms and values, thus it is imperceptible to an external observer who is not thoroughly familiar with the particular social group.


When viewing a work of art depicting dancers we can usually tell whether they are stage dancers and adapt our criteria accordingly. The painter, engraver or sculptor is severely limited, being obliged to portray only a snapshot out of an elaborate trajectory. We cannot see the sequence of movements, we do not hear the music, we do not grasp the interactions between dancers, do not follow their evolution in space. Only great art and our imagination can picture the full scene out of one frozen instant. This is why we need many images to feed our imagination.


The purpose of this collection is to provide food for the imagination in approaching dance in the past centuries. For a better understanding one has to read not only dance history books but descriptions of scenes found abundant in literature: novels, accounts by travelers, newspaper articles, studies by anthropologists.


As practitioners we all are dedicated to one form of dance, our knowledge of other forms is very limited. It couldn't be otherwise, there is barely enough time to learn one form well enough. Not knowing other forms from the inside keeps us from appreciating their inherent beauty, we see only their external beauty. In a similar way, works of art on dance thrill us visually and invite us to imagine the exquisite enjoyment experienced by the dancer.


My wish is that the Gallery broadens the dancers' perspective, enriches their experience by presenting the immense breadth their art has taken through the centuries it has been practiced by mankind.



Alkis Raftis