China is a country with a deep and rich history which encompasses many facets of cultural endeavour and original ideas. It may prove no surprise to some much of what we consider to be dancing originated within Chinese culture. China’s 5,000 year history still reflects strongly upon modern dance.
You see, in Chinese culture, dance is not purely a personification of emotion, but is also thought to be a representation of the very country itself. Modern Chinese choreographers are often keen to keep the history and culture of their country incorporated into their productions.
History of Chinese Dance
Traditional Chinese dance is also often referred to as classical Chinese dance. It’s origins are thought to date back thousands of years ago when common folk people began playing basic rudimentary instruments. Inevitably, the listeners of such music wanted to to take part in the shows and began dancing. Folk dancing later moved to the imperial courts and kingdoms of China where skilled performers where often brought to entertain royalty and other wealthy members of their society.
Beginning in the Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 256 BC) and all the way up the Five Dynasties period (907 – 960 AD) the royal courts incorporated an agency of sorts which held charge of music and dance.
Many of the musicians and dancers in the later mentioned times were trained centrally within these imperial systems. Systematic organization and research led to eventual refinement of their dance programs and this is where Chinese court dances originated from.
The Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) was a key period for traditional Chinese dance and much was accomplished at this time, however, during the Five Dynasties period, social order was both greatly and regrettably disturbed by war and many of these dances became lost within the fragments of time.
Presumably due to so much of Chinese culture (in this case dance renditions) being destroyed from these wars, after the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), folk opera began to replace the refined dances of olden time. These dances borrowed quite heavily from the Sui period (581 – 618 AD) and the Tang Dynasty period.
Despite all the changes through the course of time, classical Chinese dance managed to retain it’s original traits and splendor. Many of the old operas of ancient China incorporated characteristics of ancient Chinese dances and relics showing images of dancers from ancient times have been found showing a distinct connection between the two.
Incorporation of Martial Arts into Chinese Dance
Qigong has become quite popular in China in recent times and martial arts has continued to provide inspiration for further development of classical Chinese dance. As an example, Tanzigong (hat movements) originated from ancient Chinese martial arts practice. Chinese choreographers borrowed several elements from Tanzigong and combined them with jumps, summersaults and other martial arts tactics into a beautiful display of Chinese culture.
Other traditional martial arts tactics have been incorporated as well. Taiji and sword swings have become key components of specific types of dances and have proven quite popular among the Chinese of today. It gives them a way to remember a culture which is so easily forgotten in recent years.
Progression of Chinese dance into Recent Years
Before the May 4th Movement in 1919, the structure and culture of Chinese dance was primarily passed down from generation to generation. Many Chinese take a lot of pride in their heritage and there were individuals who felt it was their responsibility to record these dances and other corresponding history. This is what shaped the way for modern Chinese dance and made sure that their legacy was not forgotten. Modern Chinese dance has developed from elements of folk dance, folk operas, imperial court dances, ballet, and martial arts.
This leads many to believe that modern Chinese dance proves a strong representation of ancient Chinese culture.
The varied history of Chinese dance gave it a rich diversity of movement, refinement, and richness of dance. Due to Chinese dance developing through many distinct nationalities and social customs, there is a distinct array of character displayed throughout it’s many styles. Chinese dance is becoming more mainstream in recent years on the global stage, shown by the marked success of the 2007 NTDTV Chinese New Year Spectacular, an event that focused primarily on traditional Chinese dance.