This month: fairy tales from ancient Egypt!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Remnants of Ancient Dance Found in Fairy Tales


 Grotesque Masked Dancing during Carnival, "Morisken Type" or Morris Dancing,
characterized by finger snapping, black hoods, white shirts and bells attached to the legs.

Dancing as Cultural History: Remnants of Ancient Dance Found in Folk Tradition and Fairy Tales

Dancing, running and leaping are all part of carnival traditions in Europe. These wild pre-Lenten dances are sometimes referred to as “running” (German: “Laufen”) in the broadest sense of the term, for all types of movement are meant: running, hopping, jumping, racing, stamping/stomping and finally dancing. These dance moves are also called the “Shrove Tuesday Run”, the “Carnival Mask Run” or in some areas in Germany one even speaks of the “Perchta Run”.  Whoever has seen the wild racing, dancing and leaping as part of the carnival celebration in the Black Forest area of Germany (Elzacher Schuddig) can easily believe he has witnessed a remnant of one of the earliest forms of dance. Masked dancing and running are also found in many other places in Germany, the Swiss Alps and the Austrian mountain regions. In many parts of Swabia, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday is referred to as the “Gumpige” day (Jumping Day). In Allgaeu, Bavaria it is referred to as “Running Thursday” or “Raging Thursday”. It is also called “Fool’s Whit Thursday”. “Perchta Runners” in Austria also purportedly like to say “Wild Berta herself runs with us!” The oldest literary reference to such cult dancing was provided in the Indiculus Superstitionum et paganiarum from the 7th century. Here the pagan custom of running across fields in clothing “torn to bits” is condemned.  The idea of being possessed by a dancing frenzy that tears clothing and shoes to bits is found in many a fairy tale (Sweetheart Roland, The Shoes that were Danced to Bits).  In Sweetheart Roland dancing destroys more than shoes and clothing; the dancer herself is torn to bits by her uncontrolled movements.
The original beliefs associated with this wild dancing have survived to this day; namely, that the fertility of the fields could literally be “stomped” out of the earth. Forcefully stamping on the ground purportedly promoted plant growth. It was believed that flax, hemp and grain would grow faster and taller the higher the runners leaped and the more numerous their numbers.  It was commonly accepted that only wild persons danced, but those who converted to Christianity abandoned the practice.

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