Most dance historians agree that dance has been around since the beginning of time. Dance was not only used for spectacle either. Dancing served a purpose for most cultures in many different ways. Dance was used in celebration, it was used before going to war and it was also used in prayer.
Unfortunately we are not able to see the dances in early times. There is not any documentation. However there are early cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics and writings in the old testament that suggest the importance of dance in history. Dance seems to have began for religious reasons, as rituals to the gods. Then its use expanded to include educational purposes, celebrations and entertainment.
A statue of a dancing girl found in India in 6000 B.C. is evidence that dance existed at that time. India’s Hindu God Shiva was also called the Lord of the Dance. In Egypt wall paintings showing dancers can be traced as far back as 3000 B.C. It is believed that Egypt then influenced Greece and there is evidence of dance there between 3000 and 1400BC.
The Greek civilization was the most influential of the Western cultures at that time. When we start to look at the connections to Ballet today we look to the Greek culture. In the Greek civilization art played a very important role. It was a part of their religion, education and theater.
Theater was very important to the Greeks. How theater and dance is performed today I believe can be credited to the Greeks. They had performances of plays and readings that included music and dance. These were performed in very large theaters such as the theater at Epidaurus which seats 14,000 people. These were much like large arena performances of today.
When the Romans conquered Greece they took on many of the elements in the Greek lifestyle and made them their own. The art and the theater lived on. Roman pantomime began in 22 B.C. however it was invented by two Greek slaves. This art form became the most important form of theatrical art and required extensive training. The pantomimes required much strength, flexibility and grace. 4 Much like ballet training. This would eventually lead to the beginnings of ballet in Italy.