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  Dance can be simply defined as patterned movement. The anthropological contribution to the study of dance has been its focus on the dance as a social event, rather than as a bodily or aesthetic experience. In traditional societies, dance has been treated as one manifestation of ritual, analogous to oratory. The Marxist anthropologist Maurice Bloch suggested that all forms of ritual behaviour are formulaic and repetitive, and that their fixed quality embodies messages which can be interpreted as bolstering traditional forms of authority.

Many functionalist approaches treated dance as a static cultural expression, neglecting the aspect of its spontaneous creativity. Not only has dance been seen as a means of transmitting messages or a form of social control, it has also been analysed as a safety valve for pent-up feelings, or as a means of transcending the physical realm as in trance states. By looking at the message transmitted, the feelings and the social context, anthropology can locate particular dances in the social realm. Dance also reflects class and gender classifications in society. Belly dancers at weddings in Egypt, for example, embody a sexuality which socializes brides into their new role as sexually active beings. Egyptian men dance in communal Sufi rituals, in which the emphasis on achieving ecstasy underlines the importance of the internal condition of the individual. Here the dance is mirroring cosmological rather than social classifications.

Recent concerns with phenomenology and embodiment look at the body itself as a medium which both participates in, and makes its mark on, society. Disco dancing, for example, restricted by legislation in China, provides a forum for youth to express their disaffection with the state. CL

See also body; ethnomusicology.Further reading Paul Spencer (ed.), Society and the Dance; , Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields and Metaphors.



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