Funerary Related Dances

Dance of Death or Danse Macabre- A Representative or scene in medieval
art and literature stressing Death’s power over man. Death usually takes form of a
skeleton leading people of all classes, rich and poor alike, in a dance to the grave.

Medieval Dances
In the Middle Ages the church permitted dancing in miracle and mystery plays
performed on church porches. At first the only characters who danced were Satan
and his followers. Later plays included other dancers.

An unexplained hysteria, called dance mania, seized Europe in the 11th century. At
festivals and funerals people danced frenziedly in churchyards in efforts to
communicate with the dead. When dancers would not stop at the command of a
priest according to legend, he would curse them to dance all year. The dance curse
inspired Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, Red Shoes. Another fairy tale,
Sleeping Beauty, is derived form a Hungarian funeral dance in which one person
pretends to die and is kissed back to life.

The churchyard dancing is called danse macabre (from the French word for
“dance” and the Arabic for “churchyards”). It is also known as the “dance of
death.” (The definition for Dance of Death describes a later dance, one that was
used for morality plays, the two should not be confused.)
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