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In the art of choreography, MOTIVATION refers to whatever is behind movement that drives the dancer; either Drama, Music or Culture, or a combination of these.

1. MUSIC: Dance motivated by music alone is defined in Indian dance as Pure Dance. Pure Dance is a reflection of the music – the dancer becomes the music. Dance motivated by music can either be recreational or for performance, the difference being one is intended for the audience and is objective; the other is subjective and personal.

In dance motivated by music, the dancer, as a performer is obliged to express the music in her movement for the pleasure of the audience. Belly Dance or flamenco are examples of this. In dance motivated by music for personal pleasure, the dancer is enjoying movement for her personal pleasure only. Swing dance, the Twist and other social dance styles are examples of dance motivated by music for personal pleasure.

2. CULTURAL: Dance that is from a certain time or location and is a reflection of the daily life of the culture it is from. It is highly stylized and involves specific music, steps and often props, such as canes, hammers, swords or whips. Examples of cultural dance are Saidi, Kohail, Karsilama, the flamenco cane dance or the West Indian Moko Jumbi, performed on stilts and with whips. Cultural dance styles reflect the day-to-day lives of the people and are similar to recreational dances in that they are simple and do not conform to codified principles and difficult technical methods. The dancer is not striving to please spectators, and therefore does not work towards excellence in skill.

3. DRAMA: Theatrical dance styles are classical and are created by the aristocracy for the aristocracy. They involve a story drama and aspire to attain perfection in movement. The dancer becomes a performer and has the obligation to impress and inspire the onlooker. They are performed entirely for the audience and are based on strict and exacting principles of movements and stage rules. The dancer must be in top shape, have perfect technical skills, excellent musicality and must be an extraordinary performing artist.

Classical styles exist all over the world and throughout history. European Ballet, Persian classical and classical Indian styles are perhaps the three most recognized classical styles. Classical dance depicts characters and tells stories using movement and gestures, just as opera uses the voice. Of these three styles, Bharata Natyam is the oldest and most complex dance style in which drama is the motivation.


Bharata Natyam

Indian dance can look back on a continuous tradition as far as the third millennium B.C., in which the figure of a dancing girl excavated at Morenjo Daro is evident. During the Golden Age of Indian civilization under the Imperial Guptas, Indian dance assumed its textbook/classical form and from one of the ancient Hindu books of sacred writing, the Natya Sastra of Bharata Muni, (hence, Bharata Natyam). But, though the Natya Sastra has been adhered to faithfully, it has gone through number of interpretations and incarnations.

Dancing Girl at Morenjo Daro, India

From its ancient beginnings, over the passing centuries the classical dances of India went through many phases and forms. There have been religious cult dances, court dances, wandering theater groups, and folk dances which were part of village life.

The innumerable statues and relief’s of dancing girls on the temple facades of medieval India reveal many dance styles which have since disappeared. Contact with the Moslem World added more types, especially the rapid rotating movements of the North Indian Nautches, as seen in Katak. During the classic and medieval times, Indian civilization conquered all of Southeastern Asia and strongly influenced the Far East. Classical Indian dance spread to and is still a living tradition in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Java and Bali.

The Natya Sastra divides dance into three groups: Natya, Dance Drama; Nritya, song and dance combined; Nritta, which is pure rhythmic movement without any meaning except the expression of the mood or state of emotion, as dictated by the music - Pure Dance. Also, there is Abhanaya, the art of speaking through gestures and postures timed to music [similar to mime].

There are four primary styles of Indian dance: Kathak, North Indian style evolved during Mogal times; Manipuri, performed in Assam, Eastern India which evolved from local folk dances; Kathakali, from Malabar, South India, which is a purely masculine style of dance with remarkable facial make-up and elaborate hand gestures, facial expressions and technique. Bharata Natyam, the most ancient and classic form of dance dating to the Vedic times. It grew as a temple dance of Siva performed by Diva Dasis, and is essentially a feminine in style.

Katakali Dancer

”Wherever the hands go, there the eyes follow; where the eyes go, goes the mind; wherever the mind goes, there goes feeling and wherever feeling go there the mood (rasa) and flavor is found”. – Abhanaya Darpana (“Mirror of Gesture”).

-“Classic Dances of India”, Ruth St. Denis


Early History of Persian Dance

The Greek historian, Herodotus, has documented Persian dance as far back as 478 BC. Pre-Islamic Persian culture included and embraced a multitude of world-cultures in their dances including Indian to the East and Egyptian and Greek to the West. It’s own indigenous culture included folk dances from a variety of ethnic minorities including Kurds and Lors in the West with their line dances; Azeri Turks and Armenians in the north which included acrobatic men’s dances as well as slow, graceful women’s dance; Gilanis of the North Caspian area with their colorful group dances; Khorasani’s in the east with their Afghan-type circle dances; Baluchi’s with their tribal dances; the Qashgai Turks of the Shiraz area with their handkerchief group dance and Bandari dances of the Gulf area in the south. Drawing on all these folk styles as well as the miniature paintings, dancers forged a complex and beautiful style of classical dance, which is at once sublime and eternal.

Islam and Dance

Prior to the Arab invasion in 644, dancers, musicians and poets performed at coronations, marriages and Narouz (New Year) celebrations. With the institutionalization of Islam, dance was prohibited in Persia and became degraded. The Arab invaders enslaved Persian women and sold them as prostitutes, often forcing them to perform erotic dance for pleasure, not art. So, over time, dance became stigmatized. In good society women did not, and still do not dance publicly. In fact, today in Iran, dance and music are illegal

The Beloved

The Qajar Dynasty

Nonetheless, Persian dance, along with music and poetry, developed into high art. This was entirely due to the incubation of its artists, who, for a span of 130 years (from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century) were protected within the courts of the Qajar Royal Harem and here their art was fostered and nurtured. During the Qajar dynasty, dancers, musicians and poets were supported and encouraged to develop their art. And so, in time, the music, dance and poetry of this country became and still is considered the premiere dance, music and poetry of the Middle East.

The Invasion of the West

In the nineteenth century, European travelers to North Africa and the Middle East spurred a passion for all-things Middle Eastern, giving birth to the “Age of Orientalism” in Western art. It also created a craze for Orientalism in the every-day lives of Westerners. Early Hollywood films fed the fantasies of about the exotic east by creating the idea of “Harem Dancing” with naked women sexily undulating around a lascivious sultan, while naked Odalisques languished naked beside him. This added to the already stigmatized image of Persian dance, because it made no distinction between “belly dancing” and other women’s dances of the Middle East. Today, Persian dance still suffers the misconceptions of this false portrayal of the art.

In Persian dance the dancer is dancing as a devotee of God through a combination of poetry, music and dance, which awaken the viewer to higher consciousness, beyond the material plane. Persian dance can be compared to the fairytale love stories of Western ballet or the mythological epics of classical Indian dance, in that both are intended to evoke sublime thoughts and feelings in the spectator as well as the performer. Dance is not entertainment in this case, but rather a spiritual and religious experience. A prime ingredient of Persian classical dance, as well as the music and poetry, is the idea of a spiritual path or, some path of self-improvement which is void of ego and materialism.

For example, Persian dance used the concept of the ideal woman, know as “the Beloved”, to portray the ideal love found in God and the longing for oneness with God and the happiness to be found in embracing the truth and love of God. Another is the metaphor of wine as truth given to the seeker of truth in a cup from the Beloved, thereby freeing him from earthly passions.

Persian classical dance is an elegant, sensual style of Middle Eastern dance; quintessentially feminine and coquettish. It strongly influenced the development and evolution of belly dance and is a must for any serious belly dancer.


Ballet began during the Renaissance around the year 1500 in Italy. The word "ballet" comes from the Italian word ballare, to dance. When Catherine de Medici of Italy married the French King Henry II, she introduced early dance styles into court life in France. From there, it developed as a dance spectacle in the Danse d’ecole of the Royal Academy of Music and dance under Louis XIV of France. Dance steps were composed of small hops, slides, curtsies, promenades, and gentle turns. Dancing shoes had small heels and resembled formal dress shoes rather than any contemporary ballet shoe we might recognize today.

The official terminology and vocabulary of ballet was gradually codified in French over the next 100 years, and during the reign of Louis XIV, the king himself performed many of the popular dances of the time. Professional dancers were hired to perform at court functions after King Louis and fellow noblemen had stopped dancing.

Louis IV

Staging, music and the inclusion of theatrical elements such as costumes and props added to the increasing size and drama or the art. Eventually stories were added ~ mostly fairy tales and fantasies. In time other countries began developing their own style of Ballet, including Italy and Russia. Instruments were brought in to orchestras to add to the richness of the spectacles.Cultural elements from a variety of countries expanded the recipe of delicious ingredients. For example, during the turn of the 19th century, European ballet began integrating technique from Central Asian countries. The dances grew in size, opulence, and grandeur to the point where performances were presented on elevated platforms so that a greater audience could watch And, as ballet continued to evolve, certain new looks and theatrical illusions caught on and became quite fashionable.

The content of the stories was fairy-tales and tragic dramas. Dancing en pointe (on toe) became popular during the early part of the nineteenth century, with women often performing in white, bell-like skirts that ended at the calf. Pointe dancing was reserved for women only, and this exclusive taste for female dancers and characters inspired a certain type of recognizable Romantic heroine - a sylph-like fairy whose pristine goodness and purity inevitably triumphs over evil or injustice.

By 1850 Russia had become a leading creative center of the dance world. In the early twentieth century, the Russian theatre producer Serge Diaghilev brought together some of that country's most talented dancers, choreographers, composers, singers, and designers to form a group called the Ballet Russes. The Ballet Russes toured Europe and America, presenting a wide variety of ballets.

Horacio Cifuentes and Beata Zadou

In early America, ballet was relegated to bar-rooms and saloons where dancers jumped up and down kicking and throwing their skirts up – not exactly the elegant spiritual place it had matured to in Europe. But, during the 1930's when several of Diaghilev's dancers left his company to work with and settle in the U.S., ballet become recognized and appreciated for the great classical style it was. Of these, George Balanchine is one of the best known artists who firmly established ballet in America by founding the New York City Ballet. Another key figure was Adolph Bolm, the first director of San Francisco Ballet School.One of the great soloists of the San Francisco Ballet during the 1980’s was Horacio Cifuentes who later became a leading Oriental (belly) dancer. He lives, teaches and performs with his famous wife, Beata Zadou in Germany.


Dances such as folk dances, belly dance, flamenco, tap dance and jazz all originated as recreational and cultural dances performed by commoners for their own pleasure in social settings. However, over the past 100 years they have developed into sophisticated styles of performance dance, intended for spectacle and audience pleasure. As with all performance arts they developed codified systems of technique, stage rules and musical genres that support their growing complexity and focus on the audience versus the dancer.


Motivation in belly dance comes from the music as well as culture. In the Taksim it is the mood of the melody which prompts expression, whether pathos and ethos. In this case the head, being the Spiritual/Intellectual Center; The Torso, which is the Emotional/Heart center and some lower body movements as accents. The belly dancer should know about melody are how to interpret various instruments such as the Nay, Oud, Qanoon, Violin, Clarinet and voice.

In the Drum Solo it is lower body, which is the sensual center of the dancer, that is the vehicle of expression. Here she is interpreting pure rhythm with some upper body accents and focus. The dancer needs to know and understand the 14 primary rhythms of belly dance and be able to interpret them in her movements.

Orchestration is the mix of both rhythm and melody and requires an understanding of music as a separate subject. The dancer is first and foremost an athlete and secondly a musician and lastly an actress. All these elements contribute to her skill and understanding of the art of dance and what motivates her on stage.

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