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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. Manner.—The Oriental dance was performed either by an individual man or woman, or by crescent lines of men dancing together and holding each other’s hands, or of women by themselves performing similar movements. The one at the end of the line waved a scarf and acted as chorçgos, or dance-leader. At times also a line of men and women, with hands joined, confronted another similar line, and the dance consisted in their alternate advance and retreat, accompanied by the hand-clapping of the onlookers beating time to the music, by the scarf-waving and occasional shout, and, at regulated intervals, the resounding tread of the dancers. In the case of the individual, the abrupt muscular actions were artistically relieved, as in the contrasting lines of male and female attire in the Western dance, by the soft and swaying undulations of the dancer’s figure. The accompaniment of song, hand-clapping, and musical instruments served to control the energy and secure unity of movement.

2. Place.—On the occasion of a wedding in a peasant’s house a space was kept clear near the door, and into it one after another stepped forward and danced, and retired among the shadows; the dancing of the bride receiving especial attention and applause. For dancing in companies, the flat roof, or any level space beside the house, was resorted to. In the cities and in the houses of the rich, the large reception room, or the open paved court, into which all the apartments opened, was available for the purpose. In festive processions the male or female performers, singly or in couples, stepped to the front and danced with sword and shield, and then gave place to others.

3. Occasions.—In the East, dancing has never been regarded as an end in itself and promoted as an entertainment chiefly for those actively taking part in it, but rather as a demonstration of feeling due to some special incident or situation. In family life this was principally the event of marriage (Matthew 11:17, Luke 7:32); and a similar expression of feeling often attended the birth of a son, recovery from sickness, return from a journey, or the reception of a guest whose presence called for such a manifestation of grateful rejoicing. Birthdays did not usually receive such notice, as they lacked the element of relief from danger, recompense and rest after hardship, or the introduction of something new into the family conditions. Herod’s birthday feast (when Salome danced before the guests, Matthew 14:6, Mark 6:22) was an imitation of Gentile customs. More general occasions were the founding of a building, the ingathering of harvest, and the religious festivals of the year.

The prevalence of such a custom, embracing old and young, and including all classes, indicated a simple life, in which the feeling of the moment found hearty and uncritical expression. The view of life was one that recognized the easy and rapid interchange of joy and grief (Psalms 30:5; Psalms 30:11, Lamentations 5:15, Ecclesiastes 3:4). Further, it implied a very close connexion between mental and physical states. As there was a union of mirth and dancing, so there was an equally natural correspondence between sorrow and sighing (Isaiah 35:10). Even in places dedicated to relaxation and delight, by the rivers of Babylon, it was impossible for captive exiles to sing the songs of the Lord’s deliverance (Psalms 137:1-4). The elder brother could take no part in mirth and dancing of which the occasion was so affronting and offensive to himself (Luke 15:25-28). Hence among a people marked by mobility of temperament and prone to extremes of feeling, the children in the market-place might well reproach their companions who heard the wedding music without rising to the dance, and the wail of bereavement without being moved to pity (Matthew 11:17, Luke 7:32).

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Dancing’; Delitzsch, Iris, 189 ff.; Thomson, Land and Book, 555 f.

G. M. Mackie.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dancing'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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