One thing the ancient Egyptians liked very much is to entertain and have fun. While they entertained there was plenty of song and dance.
Ancient Egyptian music and dance was quite colorful. There have been thousands of images found of ancient Egyptians dancing and playing musical instruments on the walls of the pharaoh’s tombs, on pottery as well as inside ancient Egyptian homes.
Celebrations in ancient Egypt were a festive time. Wealthier ancient Egyptians entertained guests regularly.
Some of the wealthier ancient Egyptians had their own musicians and dance groups living in their homes. Others employed musicians and dance groups to perform.
Performances in ancient Egypt evolved from the old kingdom to the new kingdom. Entertainment in the old and middle kingdoms was more traditional ancient Egyptian music and dances. The entertainment in the new kingdom introduced songs and dance from foreign countries.
Ancient Egyptian dances
Ancient Egyptian dances involved lots of acrobatic moves, precise movements, bending of the body and hand gestures. Ancient Egyptian dances were primarily performed by females.
In ancient Egypt females danced with females and males danced with males. Wealthier ancient Egyptians did not dance in public. Dancing in public was reserved for the poor.
Pharaohs, priests, priestesses and other royal family would dance at specific festivals or religious ceremonies to the gods.
There were several types of ancient Egyptian dances. The types of dances are known as harem, combat, street, banquet, religious and non-religious.
Other types of dancing were performed solo, as a pair or a group.
Most solo dances were performed by pharaohs, priests or priestesses during religious ceremonies to the gods. Pair dancing started somewhere around the middle kingdom and were performed by dancers of the same sex.
There were two specific types of group dances in ancient Egypt. The first group dance involved dancers moving through an idea or theme. The second type of group dancing was performed with repetitive movements while the group formed a circle.
Specific ancient Egyptian religious dances
There were several ancient Egyptian dances geared toward religion or religious ceremonies such as funerals. Ancient Egyptians employed a special group of dancers for funerals called muu.
Funeral dances changed from the old kingdom to the new kingdom. Dances in the old kingdom were to appeal to the goddess Sekhmet after a person was mummified. In the middle and new kingdoms funeral dances were performed to appease Hathor.
The goddess Hathor was instrumental in leading dead people into afterlife.
Ancient Egyptian costumes
Ancient Egyptian dancers were female. Females appeared in many types of costumes and their bodies were generally exposed.
Nudity was quite common when female dancers performed. Old kingdom dancers were a bit more reserved. They tended to wear dresses that began at the breasts and flowed to the ankles.
The dresses were usually transparent allowing guests to view the dancer’s bodies. Sometimes dancers wore a men’s skirt or scarf in the old kingdom.
The middle and new kingdom dancers wore less clothing. Their dresses often left one breast for people to view or they wore just a belt or scarf.
One constant thing between all kingdoms is that female dancers wore plenty of jewelry like bracelets, necklaces and ribbons.
Male dancers wore collars as well as chains on their necks. Younger boy dancers wore ankle and feet bracelets.
Ancient Egyptian instruments
Ancient Egyptian instruments were played by males. Very few females played music. Females would clap during performances but they did not necessarily play musical instruments.
During the old kingdom, clapping and percussion instruments were used like drums, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. Hand clapping was a regular form of keeping rhythm in the old kingdom.
Flutes were common too. Flutes were created with reeds from various grasses that grew along the Nile River.
The middle and new kingdom saw different types of instruments. Newer instruments such as harps, lyres, and lutes were played by musicians in the later ancient Egyptian kingdoms.
Important facts about ancient Egyptian music and dance
- During performances females danced with females and males danced with males.
- Nudity was very common and ancient Egyptian dancing celebrated the form of the body.
- Funeral dances in ancient Egypt were performed to appease the gods before entering afterlife.
- Ancient Egyptian dancers wore lots of jewelry. Men wore collars or chains, women wore necklaces and bracelets. Young boys wore ankle and feet bracelets.
- Clapping and other types of percussion instruments like a sistrum, drum or tambourine were the primary instruments in the old kingdom.
- String instruments like the lyre or harp were introduced in the middle and new kingdoms.
- Ancient Egyptian dancing was very athletic involving acrobatic moves, hand gestures, body bending and synchronized movements.
- The pharaoh, priests or priestesses danced at religious festivals. Dancing in public was reserved for poorer people in ancient Egypt.
- What musical instruments were introduced in ancient Egypt during the middle and new kingdom periods?
- Ancient Egyptian dancing in public was reserved for what class of people?
- Why did female and male dancers wear transparent dresses or skirts?
To celebrate the human body form
- Who was allowed to dance at religious ceremonies or festivals to the gods?
Pharaoh, priest or priestesses
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