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Dancing in Rome

PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 8:36 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
Salvete Omnes,

I was just wondering if dancing was popular in Rome. I recall that I have read somewhere (must have been a novel) that it was despised for a Roman to dance to music. This was only for entertaining slaves and priests and priestesses.

Unfornately none of my non-fiction books tells me anything about that. Does anyone of you have a clue maybe? Thanks as usual for your help in answering my strange questions :lol:

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2005 2:08 am
by Horatius Piscinus

I am still trying to catch up upon my return from Minnesota and hadn't seen this post. I had previously written something on the importance of dance in Roman ritual for the course at AT. Here are a few excerpts to give you an idea.

"Ceres, for You in breathless dance we your silent votaries do not cease to wave the lamp of the mystae (Statius, Silvae 8.45-54)."

Along with musicians, prominent in most Roman rituals were dancers. "At Delos," said Lucian, "not even the sacrifices are offered without dancing... Boy choruses assembled and, to the pipe and cithara, some moved about, singing, while the best performed a dance in accompaniment (De Salt. 16)." Professional mimes and dancers performed in pompae. From the imperial period we hear of titles for some of their performances – "Signore Moon, Diana Flogged, Jove’s Last Testament, and the comedy of the Three Hungry Hercules (Tert. Ad Nat. 15)." But it was not just the lowly dancers, most of whom were slaves, who performed in public rites. For the Ludi Romani we have already seen in the pompa described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus that dancers appeared as satyrs and fauni in comic mime, and before them came youths from the finest houses of Rome to dance before the mightiest of the Gods. One only need be reminded of the Salii, those dancing priests of Mars, to know that Rome's very elite performed dance in public rites. Once even praetor L. Furius Bibaculus was called upon by his father to perform among the Salii, preceded by his lictores as he danced along the streets (Val. Max. 1.1.9). "People of the very best lineage and foremost in every city dance, not in the least embarrassed but proud of it (Lucian, De Salt. 79)." Even the Gods were called to dance in Roman rituals.

"Hail, Hercules, true son of Jove, an added Glory for the Gods are you. Come now, and dance at your holy rites with skillful feet (Virgil, Aeneid VIII.301-2)."

Minerva was called "the most virtuous dancer." Tuque virtutum praesul Minerva (Scriptores Historiae Augustae, Vita Probi c. 12.7). In the countryside Virgil encourages us to "foot the rugged dance and chant the lay (Georgics 1.350)." While in the City Propertius offers a simple prayer:

"For me it shall be enough if I am able to dance along the Via Sacra in praise of the Gods (3.4.22)."

PostPosted: Fri Sep 01, 2006 12:58 am
by Victoria Aurelia Ovensa
Salwete omnes,

It seems that in the information given previously, all the dancing was indeed for the Gods, which could be construed as only being done by those in the roles of "priests and priestesses", or at the very least, devotees. I believe such dancing falls within the categories originally stated (? - maybe I'm wrong) and still leaves open the question of whether dancing was popular (or even acceptable) as a purely recreational activity in Rome.
It would seem strange to me if people did not have parties and make music and sing and dance just to have fun. Most people around the world do and have always done so, perhaps with the exception of certain kinds of Christians and other ascetic types. As for whether there is written evidence of such activity in Rome, I cannot say.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 02, 2006 5:45 pm
by Horatius Piscinus
Salva sis Aurelia Ovensa

Here are a couple of links of dancers from a mosaic at Aricia ... osaic1.jpg ... osaic3.jpg

And also one from a relief at Aricia ... tled-1.jpg

The last one shows a public event. The first two do not show us the context in which the dancers perform. There are some images of musicians playing in what looks like might be street scenes. Music was part of labor, as in many cultures, but then the numen of a God or Goddess would be called upon to assist in any labor. We would not really know how Romans thought about it; that is, the role of music in such circumstances. The Gods were not separated from the Romans but included in everything they did. And after work music and dance probably played a role, too, as in any culture. But the Gods were also assumed to play a part in that.

Dance purely for entertainment? We can't say with certainty, but it seems it would have been an alien concept to the Romans. One dances becauses he or she feels the presence of a deity, is inspired by a deity, while dance is also a way to experience the Gods. I don't think you can separate the two out where dance would be solely a human activity intended to entertain humans. That's true in other cultures as well. You don't dance unless it is a prayer to the Gods, inspired by the Gods. I can't think of American Indians or Australian Aborigines or Africans dancing out of pure fun of dancing. Polynesian dance, Indian dance, Sotheast Asian dance all are a means of telling sacred myths. The dance of the Seven Veils might be entertaining for some to watch, but its origin is also in a sacred myth, that of the descent of Ishtar into the Underworld, and would not have been performed outside of a religious context.

If dance was used as a "recreational activity" one place to look might be in the recommendations of Greek doctors. In some case, I recall, they did advise people to take in the baths, engage in athletics and horseback riding. They may have, but I don't recall, them advising people to dance for the sake of recreational activity to benefit their health.

Vale optime

PostPosted: Sat Sep 09, 2006 8:50 pm
by Victoria Aurelia Ovensa
Salvete omnes,

doesn't Ovid mention dancing as a social activity in his Ars Amatoria?

I'll have to look it up.


Dancing in Rome

PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2007 3:44 am
by Valerius Claudius Iohanes
Salvete omnes -

So there may be three poles of dancing activity to consider:
    1. Religious or Worshipful or ecstatic dance;
    2. Performance, entertainment, or professional dancing (as in the mosaics linked by Horatio Piscinus noster); or
    3. Dancing as recreation or fun or lively living. It's the third that's not attested to.

I think there HAD to be recreational, convivial dancing at SOME level of Roman society; would it have been frowned upon by the more staid and conservative people, or perhaps regarded as vulgar by the upper classes? If it was frowned upon, I'll bet it was still done, in private, at least by some of the upper-class women.

What were Greek attitudes to dancing? Is that well recorded?

Nunc saltandi tempus: Ver adest.

Vale optime omnes.