The Origin of Cymbal Dances - Cymbals Used in Music and Dancing Among Civilised and Savage
"The art of dancing had its dawn under an Egyptian sky. It was in Egypt, in those mystic, wonderful ages when the Egyptians possessed the wisdom and skill of to-dav, that cymbals first came into use as musical instruments for accompanying or usage in conjunction with dancing. They appear prominently in many of the frescoes preserved to-day of quaint, spread-eagled Egyptian figures, with sphinx-like head-dresses, and tightly plaited hair. It is noticeable that when both hands of the dancer are visible one cymbal is turned towards and the other away from the onlooker.
Photos, Martin Facolette
Cymbals, therefore, belong to almost the oldest known forms of dancing. Dancing is said to have germinated under the skies of the Pharaohs ; and tradition speaks of "rounds" - symbolical of ethereal motion - circling beneath the stars on the 'august soil of Egypt, mighty mother of the world!
Dancing manifested itself first in sacred sciences, both severe and hieratic ; yet even then it spoke brokenly of joy and grief, in the yearly processions of Apis. Later on, in the course of ages, it became interwoven with all the manifestations of popular life, reflecting every changing mood and passion of mankind.
From the solemnity of religious rites and the fury of warfare, dancing passed to the quieter gaiety of pastoral sports, the dignity and grace of polished society. Beginning in Egypt, in the long-ago ages, the use of cymbals in dancing and music has marched hand in hand with the progress of the art of dancing, in every country, and every clime. As early as the year 2545 B.c., traces of the choreographic art are found. Hieratic dances, bequeathed by the priests of ancient Egypt to modern races, were then held in high honour among the Hebrews. In sacred pageants, dating back to the very beginnings of history, dancing makes a vague appearance as an expression of the immutable order and harmony of the stars.
In its earliest forms dancing was closely associated with religion ; and cymbals always played an important part in ancient religious rites. The earliest dancing movements, as in the cadenced swinging of the censer, rocked the shrines of the gods. Its first steps were trained and guided by the priests before the great granite sphinxes, the colossal hypogea, the monstrous columns, and high pediments of their temples.
The mysterious grandeur of these sacred dances, performed to the musical clashing of metal cymbals, charmed the spirit of Plato. When these astronomical dances took place, the altar in the centre of the Egyptian temples stood for the orb of day, while dancers, representing the signs of the Zodiac, the seven planets, and the constellations, performed revolutions, imitating the movement of celestial bodies round the sun.
Step 2. Fig. 2. The dancer looks at her reflection in the cymbal as she walks across the room
Step 3. Fig. 3 The dancer clashes the cymbals, and, raising her left foot, turns slowly, listening to the vibration of the instruments the use of cymbals passed to India; indeed, cymbals belong essentially to Eastern or Southern races, and have little connection with the more coldblooded and passionless dances of the North. The wild clanging of cymbals, crashing high and low as the dancer turns and twists, acts as a spur to the ener-gies and passions of Southerners. Such truly barbaric music has its real environment among the scents, sights, and sounds of the East.
In India cymbals, played by three men, accompany the dances of the Bayaderes, that strange band of priestesses who dance only in the temple. A full description of the Bayaderes appeared in a previous article on scarf dances (page 3355, of Part 28).
Step 4. Fig. 4. Kneeling step. After rising from her knees, both cymbals are clashed above the head
Writing of the dances of India, M. Rousselet tells us that in Rajputana the Bayaderes enjoy social privileges, and gives a clever description of a religious dance of the Nauratre, at which he was a privileged spectator.
"The dancing girls were placed on the upper terrace of the palace, where an immense carpet was spread on the ground," writes M. Rousselet. "Braziers rilled with resin flared in the angles of the walls, struggling intermittently with gusty flashes against the brilliant starlight of the Eastern night. A compact circle of women crowded the vast platform, glittering with jewels and spangles, and clashing cymbals that shimmered in every ray of light - a striking contrast to dusky arms and faces. In the midst of these women a dancing girl moved languidly to the sound of the ancient music of Indian worship. At certain festivals the dancing girls carried cymbals themselves, which were bound to their ringers with golden cords or braid. These instruments they used in harmony with their steps and poses ; sometimes knocking them together to accentuate the queer, broken rhythm of the Eastern music.