Dancing in ancient Egypt

We can see many dancing scenes on the walls of tombs, which accompanied celebrations, feasts, religious rituals and funereal ceremonies. Dance was also a part of everyday entertainment. When somebody began to dance, the others join him or her spontaneously. Except the dance of wide classes more exacting dance also existed – a gymnastic dance that included more difficult almost acrobatic elements, which required extensive physical fitness, flexibility and long-term training.

It is considered that some of the dancers could be professionals. We know them from the written sources, where they were called chebejet. They were especially girls and women from royal harems.

Dancing in ancient EgyptThe special kinds of daces were religious, funereal, grotesque, dramatic or war dance. Men and women danced separately and women were depicted more often than men. Couple dancing, when a man embraces a woman, wasn’t known in Egypt. It meant round dancing of a group of girls holding their hands.

There is no border between gymnastic and acrobatic performance in the scenes. These arduous figures included live roundabout, handspring, lifts and making a bridge. The most beautiful example of a bridge is a painting of elegant girl on ostraca, stored in the Egyptian Museum in Turin.

There is evidence about the fact that people already danced in Egypt at the time before dynasties – clay women statuettes with hands over the head and paintings on vessels with similar theme. Various jumps, tapping and number of sports elements spread at the time of the Old Kingdom. The rules came loose at the time of New Kingdom and new refined figures were added that were associated with bigger animation and grace of movements. Also the dances of surrounding nations came to the fore – the Libyans, Syrians and blacks. At the time of the Late period prevailed the dances for religious ceremonies.

Dancers’ clothing

Clothes dancers concerned a short skirt open in front or a fringed skirt. On other occasions they wore long flowing tunic hung with wide tapes on shoulders. It was almost up to ankles, but allowed free movement of arms. These tunics were sewed of transparent fabric since the New Kingdom. A relief was found in the tomb of Kheruef from the 18th dynasty, which depicts girls dancing in short cloaks held by narrow belts and crossed on the breast. The girls also liked to dance naked wearing just a beaded or pearl belt around their waist in the New Kingdom.

Dancers in ancient EgyptThe dancers had their hair in a massive ponytail falling to their back,where it was weighted down with a disk or sphere. First this hairstyle appeared in the 5th dynasty. They wore short frizzy wigs in the Middle Kingdom and longer wavy wigs in the New Kingdom. These were added with a headband with flower petals on its sides and a lotus flower in the front. Sometimes they danced with their own loose curls. Their beauty was accented by necklaces, bracelets and since the New Kingdom also with massive round earrings, some of which were clip-on.

There were countless opportunities for dance and music in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had their free time after the sunset, when a pleasant coolness spread in the Nile nature. Lively hilarity came after the working day that lasted long into the night. This rhythm of work and entertainment remained up today on the Nile banks. People enjoyed even more entertainment in free days or on festivals, because they didn’t work every tenth day.

There were countless festivals and ceremonies in Egyptian calendar. They celebrated the New Year, the end of the harvest with a few days off etc. The most important were the festivals in the honour of gods or festival announced by the King related to his majesty. The reasons for private celebrations were family events such as birth, wedding, as well as a burial.

Message from the Nile

  • History of Czech institution of egyptology

    The Czech egyptology founder is Frantisek Lexa, the author of up to now evaluated work about ancient Egypt magic and Demotic grammar. Seminar for egyptology started thanks to him in Faculty of Philosophy and Arts of Charles University in Prague in 1925. Two years later Lexa became the first regular professor of egyptology in then Czechoslovakia.

  • Abusir - outstation of Czech egyptology expedition

    Abusir is an archaeological locality in Egypt named after nearby recent village Abusir. It is situated on western Nile bank on the edge of Libyan tableland approximately 20 kilometers to the south-west of Cairo. The name of this locality is derived from ancient Egypt god Osiris, from Per Usir (Busiris), "(cult) place of Osiris" (Busiris in Greek).

  • Researches in Western desert

    Czech egyptology is successful in researching not only on pyramidal fields in Abusir recently, but also in supporting and organizing smaller expeditions into egyptian Western desert. Czech expedition has been working even in slowly evanescent oasis El-Hajez since 2003, which is situated about 400 km to the south-west from Cairo.

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