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

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

This collection's Video Directory contains seventy-five short films of dances from a variety of time periods, from the Renaissance to the Ragtime era. These films provide an opportunity to analyze dance and interpret how it reflects history and culture. Compare dances created in different historical eras using the films and the Special Presentation, "Western Social Dance," which provides a brief contextual background for the dance manuals in this collection. Survey this presentation, sample a variety of the films, and answer the following questions.

  • To what kind of music is each dance performed?
  • Who is participating in each dance? Individuals? Couples? Groups of individuals or of couples?
  • Where do you imagine such dances might have been performed?
  • How do you think it would feel to participate in or perform each dance?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe each dance? Formal or friendly? Conservative or whimsical? Elegant and lyrical, or rhythmic and percussive? Controlled or spontaneous? (Create a drawing or painting that captures the overall feeling of the dance.)
  • What kinds of social and gender roles might the dances reflect? How do the dancers relate to each other? What do these interactions suggest about how people were expected to behave in public?
  • What do your answers to the preceding questions suggest about the values of the times and places from which the dances originated? Do the dance manuals from these times and place reflect the same values as the dances and their music? Does the clothing of each period reflect these values? How?