How Important Were Music and Dance in Ancient Egypt?
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
History and importance
Music and dance were highly valued in ancient Egypt. They were considered a vital part of creation, communicating with the gods and expressing all manner of life and death.
The first illustrations of dance in ancient Egypt come from scenes in Old Kingdom tombs of performers associated with funerals. Elaborate scenes of festivals and funerals depict the significant role of song and dance. No occasion was complete without it to facilitate the experience.
Dancers performed at festivals, religious temples, feasts, and more. Dance was seen as an Earthly pleasure, an offering to the gods, and a celebration of sexuality.
Both music and dance elevated religious occasions and brought Egyptians closer to their gods. Dance didn’t have a negative image during this time but was thought to be a natural extension of life.
Although there were few instances when the upper class danced, there are scenes of the king dancing.
No rules stated who could or couldn’t dance, but women were never seen dancing with men. Wealthier Egyptians hired performers, and the Pharaoh had women who were trained in the harem to perform.
What did dancers wear?
Female dancers in the Middle Kingdom wore sheer robes, skirts, and dresses to show off their bodies. By the New Kingdom, dancers were scantily clad, sometimes wearing nothing more than a hip sash. Sometimes they wore sheer robes or dresses with the right breast exposed.
They wore ribbons and garlands on their heads and floral collars. Often they wore beeswax or fat cones infused with perfume on their heads that left intoxicating aromas as they spun and lept through the air.
They lined their eyes thickly with the blackest kohl to give them an irresistible gaze. Some female dancers wore a tattoo or painted image of Bes, a deity associated with music, dance, and fertility.
Male dancers wore a skirt with an apron or loincloths. They also wore collars, and young boys wore ankle bracelets.
Music and instruments
Before the New Kingdom, dancers performed to percussive music and rhythmic clapping. The lute and the lyre came into fashion in later periods. Egyptians used tambourines, cymbals, and clappers, as well as sistrums, harps, and drums.
They even used small shells for whistles. Egyptians played trumpets, flutes, and there’s evidence of clarinets too! High-status musicians played at temples and religious ceremonies while others played for the general public.
The best of the best were invited to play for gods and goddesses, and this role was usually reserved for women.
Types of dance
Different classifications for the various dances of the period include the following:
Festival & banquet dances
Religious & temple dances
Combat or war dances
Depending on the occasion, dancers performed solo, in pairs or groups. Pairs of the same gender performed duets and sometimes holding hands.
Some dances used dramatic movements and conveyed emotions such as longing or sadness.
A combat dance used a curved stick or cane to symbolize a weapon in battle as they cracked the sticks against each other. This dance is still performed by Egyptians today.
No event in ancient Egypt was complete without music and dance. They were natural extensions of everyday life, worship, and celebration.
Egyptians were passionate about expressing their world through art. From tombs to temples, music and dance are ever-present in the story of ancient Egypt.
If you enjoyed this, you might like 10 Amazing Facts About Ancient Egypt.
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