The art of movement is amongst the oldest of the arts. Throughout history, people have always danced out their feelings about the world at the time. The origins of dance are rooted in this history. Economics played a significant role in the development of what we now call ballet, particularly from the times of the Ancient Greeks through the 19th century. Without funding, ballet would not have constantly reinvented itself and survived all these years.

Ancient Greece

Dionysian Dance

The most influential of ancient Western civilizations was that of Greece. The earliest known forms of dance originated in Greece. Since it was one of the most advanced economies in the world, music and dance education was funded in the formal sector. Learning to dance was considered a necessary and important addition to education. They believed that dance improved both physical and emotional health. Therefore there were more than 200 dances used for various occasions. They focused heavily on training the entire person, meaning mind, body, and soul. The specific reason for dance and/or music education differed from group to group. The Spartans placed a high emphasis on military training, and therefore dance education was crucial for the purpose of enhancing future soldier’s maneuverability. The Athenians, however, placed a high emphasis on the arts. Therefore music, literature, dance, philosophy, and science were very important aspects of every day life.

Ancient Greece drove a sharp distinction between the Apollonian dance and the Dionysian dance. The Apollonian dance – was accompanied by guitars called lyres, lutes and kitharas. It was a ceremonial dance incorporating slower cult dances performed during religious festivals, as well social dances performed during communal events and funeral practices. The Dionysian, associated with the cult of Dionysus, is about passion, panic and desire. It is an irrational, passionate, and widely sensual dance that includes unrestrained movements meant to shock the viewers. The combination of the Apollonian and the Dionysian is the art of dance. The tension between these opposites played an instrumental role in the shaping of the ancient Greek theatre and the birth of tragedy in the evolution of the arts for civilization.
Roman Pantomime


As Rome came to dominate the world and the Roman Empire expanded, dance became increasingly separated from music and poetry. Rome’s main contribution to dance was pantomime, or story telling that use stylized movements for entertainment. When Rome started deteriorating due to high levels of inflation, political instability, and war, so did dance. It became more provocative and vulgar. The fall of the Roman Empire took place in 476 A.D. This event degraded society even more. While the Eastern half of the Roman Empire continued to thrive, the Western Empire fell subject to Barbarian tribes. Eventually, Christian culture developed out of all the chaos. Emperor Justinian closed all entertainment sites and put an end to funds set aside for dance. Dance and theater became outlawed, but it didn’t stop dancers from performing privately in the streets. They would travel in troupes, much like today’s touring companies do.

Medieval Europe
Since dance was still outlawed, the absence of entertainment took a new form of theater and was called the Catholic Mass. Scholasticism was the way of thinking at the time. It was characterized by feudalism, just price, and religion/ethics. Eventually, the church allowed dance, but it was only right and ethical if it was a part of celebrations. Spectacles of the elite were put on to showcase social dances. The more dances you knew, the more money you had. It was seen as a high-class wealth symbol and made one refined. Court of love dances, such as the Estampie, were used as a social dance for courtship. Peasants and lower classes also had dances during their celebrations, such as a Carole, or a serpentine line dance. Morescas were another popular dance used to imitate reenactments of Christian wars. In Spain, the church even allowed Los Seises, a choirboy dance in the cathedrals. Since then, dance has not been included as parts of Christian, mainly Catholic, worship services.


During the Dark Ages, when plague, diseases and war engulfed the country and the economy, dance took a drastic shift. The Danse Macabre consists of the assumed dead person summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grace, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and laborer. It was a popular theme among all art forms, not just dance. Danse Macabre themes were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how earthy life was vain. It can be thought of as a psychology of fear to maintain and hold the culture of society. They did not want the society to drift back towards how it was after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Simultaneously in the Middle Ages, there were outbreaks of dance epidemics known as Danseomania - dance mania. Large number of people would dance until they collapsed or died of exhaustion. At the time, citizens believe this so called “dance of death” was caused by witchcraft, the devil, or a spider bite. Most likely, these outbreaks were from hallucinations from fever, contaminated food, or even sexual frustration. The Pide Piper and Ring Around the Rosie are just a two examples of stories that developed from these dances of death. The dance epidemics reached an intensity that rendered ecclesiastical councils helpless in opposition to them. Despite the church's command to cease the dance manias, the people either wouldn't or couldn't. Consequently, the dancers were often accused of being possessed by the devil. Scholastics began to voice their opposition to the use of dance. John Chrysostom believed that 'where dancing is, there is the evil one'. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, warned against 'frivolous or unseemly' dances and insisted on prayer, not dance. There were also an increasing number of edicts and considerable legislation against dance.

Italian Renaissance

Comique de la Reine

This marks the shift from a God centered Scholastic view, to a people centered Mercantilist view. Under a mercantilist policy a nation sought to sell more than it bought so as to accumulate bullion. Besides bullion, raw materials for domestic manufacturers were also sought, and duties were levied on the importation of such goods in order to provide revenue for the government. The world economy was a zero sum game, and each country was competing against one another. Nothing mattered, as long as the state succeeded. During this time, Spain, England and France were all competing against one another in dance too. When Catherine De Medici from Italy married Henry II of France, an alliance formed. De Medici brought dancemasters from Italy to France and was considered the first patron of the arts. She opened the Académie de Musique et de la Poesie, the academy of music and poetry, and funded one of the first productions considered ballet at this time, Comique de la Reine. Theaters were even built in France to set up permanent performing spots.

Baroque France

Giselle Peasant Pas de Deux Act I
During this time, Physiocracy became a way of thinking. It was very narrowly focused on France and the economy of France. They believed in natural law and laissez faire. King Louis XIV imposed taxes that physiocrats opposed. The court of Louis XIV was very extravagant and relied heavily on taxes to finance the monarchy. Although considered mercantilists, Louis also seemed to have a Physiocratic mindset. He believed France was basically the center of the world, especially the dance world. He claimed ownership of ballet and opened a school, the Académie Royale de Danse, the first school to train dancers that still exist today, called the Paris Opera Ballet. This is where ballet technique really started to develop. The Romanticism era of ballet began around this time. Themes of nationalism appeared and were absorbed into ballets under the name of character dance. Romantic ballets, like Giselle and La Sylphide, usually have the first act incorporating character dance and themes from that country, and the remaining acts as non-worldly or exotic place. Funding from government and benefactors helped with technical advancements, such as gas stage lighting that produced an ethereal atmosphere.


Anderson, J. (1992). Ballet & Modern Dance: A Concise History. Highstown, NJ: Princeton Book Company.

Landreth, H., & Colander, D. C. (2002). History of Economic Thought. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Danse Macabre. Retrieved from Wikipedia:

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