The Dance of Origins

By Gaudenzio Ragazzi

Despite the great proliferation of studies dedicated to Prehistoric Art, in recent decades the theme of the origins of dance has always remained on the sidelines of research, above all due to the lack of a valid interpretation criterion that would allow the attribution of a meaning to figurative documents .

For this reason, historians of western dance, having only written sources and testimonies provided by popular tradition, are forced to leave out the theme of origins up to now. For this reason, to date there is no essay on the market that analyzes the prehistoric gesture and dance.

This book aims to reduce the knowledge gap relating to the oldest documents attesting to the practice of dance on the European continent. The possibility of completing such an ambitious objective is the result of 30 years of study dedicated to a new discipline, Prehistoric Iconography, which has put the writer in the position of acquiring some image reading criteria, a fundamental premise for the understanding not only of the scenes that have gesture and dance as their object, but all the various classes of representation that one encounters in prehistoric art: fighting, warfare, ploughing, hunting, symbols, etc.

The first part of the book deals with and tries to solve the problem of interpretation using a hermeneutic method of investigation which has been called “Archaeology of Knowledge” in Foucauldian terms, which analyzes the images by carrying out a sort of archaeological “excavation”, i.e. starting from the ” plain of the countryside” (the current time) and descending from level to level until one encounters the stratum, that is the era, to which an image is attributed.

Current Western culture has always maintained constant and direct contact with the tradition that immediately preceded it and, by virtue of the persistence of some symbolic links, is still in symbiosis with part of the knowledge that it intends to find in the documents provided by Prehistory .

To understand the thought of our prehistoric ancestor we must therefore look inside our cultural tradition, in order to identify those symbolic, figurative, religious elements that allow us to go back to the knowledge we are looking for and to connect it with its most ancient correspondent. Historical analysis cannot start from the furthest point, of which we know little or nothing, but from our present which opens onto the past. For this reason the order of the chapters, the order of the paragraphs, the order of the images, deliberately follows the direction that from the present turns to the past.

In prehistoric art, the images created on an engraved or painted panel are often found superimposed on each other and this facilitates their insertion within a chronological sequence.

A chapter is dedicated to the conception of the body and gestures of archaic man, which are investigated in the light of the most important research conducted by 20th century anthropologists (Mauss, Guenon, Jousse, Cushing, Hertz, up to Csordas). It follows that a specific function of cosmological mediation is attributed to every significant gesture of man, in which the Universe is conceived in its quadripartite structure (the sky of the stars, the sky of signs, the earth, the underworld), with some modifications compared to the tripartite model of the Indo-Europeans elaborated by Dumezil. On the basis of these premises, starting from the gesture of the adorer still performed by the priest today during the mass, four types of gesture have been identified with four specific functions and cosmological orientations. Based on the methodological premises elaborated in the first chapter, the swastika is interpreted as a gestural symbol that expresses maximum interaction towards the four directions of space.

In the third chapter, on which reflection is only in its initial phase, the representation of sound instruments is analysed. The emission of a sound, like the execution of a dance, is the object of perception only when the sound/dance event is in progress. Their representation in a “quantum” support therefore has the function of generating a perpetual resonance to musical actions whose sounds have a short duration in space and time.

The fourth chapter is dedicated to the dance scenes present in the iconographic repertoire of European prehistory. The starting point is a phase of the Iron Age which develops in parallel with the beginnings of the Celtic and Greco-Roman civilizations; the arrival point is the one in which the gestural and dance aspects that emerge with difficulty from the figurative expression of the Paleolithic are investigated. The most interesting question relating to the Paleolithic, which will still require very in-depth investigations, is the radical difference between the way of representing the animal figure with respect to the anthropomorphic figure. The first, which forms the center of

The figurative epic of the Franco-Cantabrian caves is rendered in extremely natural terms, both in the use of colors and in the attention to movement. On the contrary, the human figure, which corresponds to only 3% of the images present on the walls of the caves, appears as a foreign body. His graphics are only marginally based on the criteria of naturalism; on the contrary, except for very few cases, its form is devoid of movement, very approximate, almost childlike.

More than conclusions, this book brings into play a new point of view, which could open a way forward to discover the meaning of the dance scenes present in prehistoric art. A thought that will need to be explored concerns the affinity of the sacred support on which the prehistoric images, gesture, dance and more, have been affixed, and the notion of Field elaborated by Quantum Mechanics. The principles of magic of archaic cultures and those that determine a resonance effect in an electromagnetic field, according to some scholars such as J. Frazer, F. Capra, W.K. Heisenberg, reveal an affinity that is certainly not accidental which, if deepened, could help contemporary man in understanding his prehistoric ancestor.

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