The Starting Point? The “Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses”.

“Ring-a-ring o’ roses, A pocket full of posies, Ashes! Ashes!, We all fall down.”
A singsong like this, which I also sang more than fifty years ago, is still performed in several places of Europe, even if less and less frequently, by children who hold their hands while moving all together, with no hurry, around a center inside which stands a mother, a teacher, an object.
In their play they put in action, without knowing, an archaic gestural mechanism, a millenary magical dance which has preserved unchanged in time the most relevant aspects of the art of dance. There is no memory in their gestures. The pattern has been learned without any mediation. The notion of moving in circle clockwise, following the daily route of the sun, or counterclockwise, following the path of the moon or of the night sky, is by now obsolete. The refrain contains valuable and obscure information on the function of the ring-a-ring o’ roses. At the end everybody crouches down, and none of the children know what’s happening yet, nor do they wonder about the ultimate meaning of the song and the setting. They don’t need to know that their gestures still reflect the original dancing act.
It is likely that in the idea “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down” still lives the memory of unsurpassed fears that the archaic man may have materialized at the peak of harsh winters spent with the doubt that the heat of the sun would never manifest itself again. Or maybe the fear was triggered by the doubt that total darkness caused by the setting of the moon would last forever.
European folklore, with its constant reference to dance and gesture, certainly is a primary source for understanding archaic dance and its origins. Curt Sachs himself maintains that “the dance heritage of non-classic Middle Ages corresponds on the whole with that of primitive people of our time” (History of Dance, 2006, p. 282).  The term “archaic”, which will be used very often, is meant to designate that thought, that culture, that community which, considered apart from real time linearity, conceived reality as a cyclical manifestation, within which “an object or an action acquire a value, and in this case become real, insofar as they participate, somehow or other, in a reality which transcends them” (M. Eliade).
So, what is the starting point to understand the origins of dance? Our only chance is to start from the present time, because starting from the beginning, that is from the point farther in time from us and consequently darker, makes no sense. The point of origins, the one farther in time from us, is also the one we know less about. That’s why our starting point is the ring-a-ring o’ roses of today’s children and every form of dancing that still belongs today to our cultural background and which has a long history to be rediscovered. Only by this method of research, which I called “Archaeology of Knowing” (even though it is not inspired by Foucaul’s work), we could discover at least some answers to our questions. What we feel today while dancing still contains, together with its structure of dance of origins, also its original meaning.

Sardana Dance performed around a fire (from M. Clarke and C. Crisp, The History of Dance, 1981). The sardana, expression and symbol of the Catalan ethnic group, gets started with a quick and violent round dance in which they often perform jumps and cross their feet. After the frantic rotation phase, as with other similar dances in Europe, follows a phase of pause and of slower movements. The frantic rotation and the jump have very ancient origins and a profound symbolic meaning. When the magic round dance surpasses the limits of the natural measure of the steps – Curt Sachs maintains – the children and the ears grow strong and healthy and the destructive force of death will break. Jumping, lifting a leg, is a suspension, an action that counters the force of gravity. In the European folklore, but also with primitive people, we see dances with jumps in which the freedom from the bonds of matter is reached with strength. The archaic magic mentality links the jump to the motif of growth, also because the one who jumps is identified with the object of the dance, and not with the subject: jumping means also affecting the development of plants and “the higher the jump, the higher the wheat will grow” (Sachs). The motif of jump is present in wedding rites, since it was believed that jumping (especially over fire) was a magic act of purification and of fertility. We will again meet Sardane of this kind shown in the images in many European prehistoric art sites and in the plastic figurines of Eastern Mediterranean protohistory. The deep affection of European peoples to their own identity and traditions has made for a lasting practice of these dances through the present time.

Autore: Gaudenzio Ragazzi

(English). My name is Gaudenzio Ragazzi, a long time ago I graduated in Philosophy with a master in History of Theater. To realize my thesis on the "origins of dance", a theme that still today boasts only two or three specialized researchers in the world, I became a scholar of Prehistoric Iconography. In the last thirty years I have not been able to escape the responsibilities of life. So, after the death of my father, I led the family artisan company that produces tailored shirts. A few years ago I decided that it was time to resume my studies and complete the research I had started as a young man (that nobody else had yet completed). Good luck Gaudenzio! Mi chiamo Gaudenzio Ragazzi, molto tempo fa ho conseguito la laurea in Filosofia con specializzazione in Storia del Teatro. Sono diventato uno studioso di Iconografia Preistorica per realizzare la mia tesi di laurea sulle "origini della danza", argomento che ancora oggi vanta nel mondo solo due o tre studiosi di una certa levatura. Negli ultimi trent'anni non ho potuto sottrarmi alle responsabilità della vita. Così, dopo la morte di mio padre, ho guidato l'azienda artigiana di famiglia che produce camicie su misura. Alcuni anni fa ho deciso che era arrivato il momento di riprendere i miei studi e di fare da vecchio quello che non ho potuto fare da giovane (e che nessun altro nel frattempo aveva completato). Buon lavoro Gaudenzio !


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