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by Archaeology Newsroom

Byzantine Dance in Secular and Sacred Places

Byzantine dance has its origin from Antiquity with dances, such as the Bibasis or the traditional round dancing that have been transmitted from the ancient Greeks. Aristides Quintilianus in his treatise About Music gives information about this continuation of dancing in the first centuries ad and its influences from the ancient Greeks, such as the various meters for the choreography of different dances or the continuation of analo¬gous dances, like laments and war dances. Similar to ancient Greece, Byzantium included dances in theatrical performances, such as ballets and pantomimes, the latter following the tradition of the Hellenic mimetic dance. Much of the information on Byzantine dancing comes from the admonishments of the Church Fathers but also from those, such as Libanios, Michael Psellus, Niketas Choniates, who condoned dancing in their published orations.

The Byzantine Empire was a large pluralistic nation where different types of music and dance could be found m various regions. Furthermore, the society evolved to allow dancing in Christian sacred places, such as the church. Examples of dancing in sacred places are the moirologia (=laments), which were eventually allowed to be chanted and danced in a circular movement in the narthex of the church, and the Dance of Isaiah, which is a thrice encirclement of the vestment table by the bride and groom, in the Byzantine rite of matrimony

The Empire was also a society where dances thrived in the secular environment. Secular places offered more possibilities for dance through the mimesis or pan¬tomime of the theatre, the dancing at symposia; and the street dancing in festivals and carnivals, such as the Festival of Agathe that celebrated with dance the only honorable profession for a woman, which was the cloth-making manufacturing. The taverns of the larger cities were also known to have instrumental entertainment to which men and women danced, while clapping hands.

The Imperial Palace was a secular environment for dancing at the most sophisticated level. Ballets were performed at dinner-feasts for the Emperor, usually in the manner of round dances. The pageant of Gothic dancing, which was also observed at the Imperial Palace, exemplifies an exotic type of dancing along with the Byzantine traditional elements of dance. Dancing in secular places also included lascivious dances, such as the Kordax. But even more extreme, orgiastic and nude dances were performed as they are described in the fifteenth-century satire. The Comedy of Katablattas. In short, Byzantine dancing encompassed high and low levels of society in sacred and secular places.