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[Detail] Cover of "How to Dance," 1878

Create a Dance

Like any art form, dancing allows for the creative expression of ideas. Arabella Moore's "The Dance, Ancient and Modern" (1900) briefly describes the various religious and secular purposes of dancing throughout history. While discussing contemporary dances, Moore describes the Polka Mazurka as expressing "sentiments of sweetness and tenderness. It is full of elegance . . . its slowness has something aristocratic about it, even a little haughtiness. The waltz has more passion, but there is grace also in the undulating and gliding Mazurka," (page 27). An example of the Polka Mazurka is available in this collection's Video Directory.

Photographs in Mrs. H. A. Foreman's "Illustrated Portfolio of Artistic Dancing" (1894) demonstrate that dancers express themselves through their wardrobe and facial expressions as well as their steps. This idea is reinforced in Carl Van Vechten's portraits of Dame Alicia Markova in a variety of costumes and dances in the American Memory collection, Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964.

After reviewing these examples, create a dance and a costume that express a specific idea, feeling, or theme.

  • What is the feeling that you are trying to express?
  • What steps and movements in your dance convey that feeling? How?
  • How do your costume, makeup, and facial expressions convey that feeling?