Monday, April 02, 2007


I don't dance, though I would like to learn. My brother and his wife took lessons before my son got married, and now dance it up regularly. Though I have danced a bit with them, and with my wife, my brain-feet coordination is mostly an imagination. Still, you can't listen to the music they dance to, swing, without conjuring up a dance step or two.
The image here swings in its own way. It is a piece of painted pottery from Tepe Sialk in today's Iran, dating to the 5th millennium BCE. The archaeologist Dr. Yosef Garfinkel proposes that images like this one suggest a connection between dance and agriculture, which makes a lot of sense.

It may take imagination to see in these depictions the choreographic ancestry of Astaire and Rogers or the Bolshoi. Some show only stick figures with triangular heads, and some headless, in highly schematic scenes that appear to be dances. Others include figures in a dynamic posture, usually with bent arms and legs. Several scenes depict people in a line or completely circling an illustrated vessel, their hands linked. There is some resemblance here to current folk dancing or even a Broadway chorus line.

The prevalence of what appear to be dancing scenes in the earliest art from the ancient Middle East, Dr. Garfinkel said in a recent interview, suggests the importance of the dance in these preliterate agricultural communities.

"Dancing was a means of social communication in prestate societies," he said. "It was part of the ritual for coordinating a community's activities. `Hey, it's time to plant the wheat or harvest it.' So everyone would gather and dance, and the next day they would go to work."

Then with the emergence of states ruled by kings and bureaucracies and the invention of writing, all occurring in the region some 5,000 years ago, dancing scenes all but disappeared from pottery. People still presumably danced, Dr. Garfinkel said, but "the dancing motif had lost its importance in society." John Noble Wilford, The New York Times, Feb 27, 2001.