Ancient Mothers of Drummers and the Art of Dance

Young girls standing on windowsill

The art of dance was incorporated in many religious rituals and festivals of ancient civilizations. From the third millennium BC, ancient Egyptians started to use dance as an integral part of their religious ceremonies, using dancers to perform important events such as divine tales and celestial patterns of shifting sun and stars. In ancient Greece, dance was very freely used for public purposes until it eventually brought about the birth of the popular Greek theatre in the 6th century BC. The Hindu faith has a close connection to music as they claim that it was the dance of the Supreme Dancer Nataraja, a representation of the Hindu god Shiva as the supreme dancer, that formed the entire Universe. Indeed, each of the Hindu gods and goddesses has their own manner of manifesting power through dance movements. Buddhism is also known for their Korean Seungmu dance performed by Buddhist monks.

Master Assistant Kim Myo Seon performing the Seungmu dance, in the traditional Changsam costume.

The significant role of women in the art of dance can also be traced back to civilisation’s very beginnings. Examples of cave paintings from as far back as 6000 BC, such as in the Addauta Cave near Palermo and Catalonia’s Roca dels Moros, include scenes of women dancing. Depictions of female ritual dancers also come from tomb-scenes of the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt where dancers and singers are shown performing in the funeral procession at the entrance to the tomb. In the Old Kingdom, most dancers were women who belonged to the bureau called the Hnr which sent them to perform at funerals and important festivals. Initially at least, all the members of the Hnr seemed to be female with women classified in tomb scenes with titles such as “hnr overseer” or “hnr inspector.” One lady of the Fifth Dynasty, Neferesres, was given the titles “overseer of the king’s hnr” and “overseer of the king’s dances.” The hnr’s female supremacy ended at the close of the Old Kingdom when male performers began to be portrayed in the tomb-scenes and the names of male officials.

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Dancing scene in a burial chamber. circa 1950 BC

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