What were the ancient ritual dances, best of all in our time can be found on the example of the dances of African Bushmen and Australian Aborigines. They repeat the movements of a person during a hunt, during a battle. The totemic dances in honor of the totem, the animal - the first ancestor, repeat the movements of this animal. Such dances could last for several days, their participants fell into a special state of ecstasy. With the development of human society, the art of dance was also improved. The movements of the dancers became more and more honed, sometimes only remotely resembling the original prototypes — the actions of a person when dealing with weapons in combat or hunting, the movement of animals. More developed and sophisticated musical instruments appeared, which meant that the musical accompaniment of the dance was also improved, and it became more spectacular and rich.
Dance or martial art?
A special place in the dance art of the peoples of the world has always occupied martial and military dances. They developed at the junction of dance and martial art and repeated the movements of warriors during the battle. Perhaps every nation has examples of its combat dance. The most famous and rampant battle dance is capoeira. Strictly speaking, this is both dance and martial art, since capoeira includes dance and combat components. Its development took place in the XVII-XIX centuries. in Brazil, among the black slaves brought by Portuguese slave traders from the African continent. Today, capoeira is Brazil’s national treasure, and relatively recently, just over a century ago, it was banned as a dangerous martial art that threatens state order.
Capoeira is a martial art combined with dance. The main role in it is played by the movements of the legs, since it was assumed that the hands of the slave may be tied or constrained and in battle with the enemy he can only hope for the strength of his legs and the speed of movements, and use his hands only as a support. Since martial arts were forbidden to slaves, for obvious reasons, the only way to study self-defense without arousing suspicion from the guards was to disguise classes under a ritual dance. Although, in fact, capoeira was a ritual dance to the accompaniment of musical instruments. The main one is the berimbau, which consists of a similarity of a bow with a metal string and is attached to the bow of a hollow pumpkin. The string is struck with a special wand - a packet. In addition to the berimbau, capoeira is accompanied by a porridge - a rattle and a pandeiro - tambourine.
Of course, capoeira could not develop from scratch. It is based on the ritual dances of the peoples of West and Central Africa, whose representatives were most often captured into slavery and exported to Latin America. In Africa, martial dances have achieved real perfection. Take, for example, “giyya” - a battle dance of the Zulus, repeating the movements of warriors in battle. Guillaume dancers - Zulu warriors - are armed with a shield and a short spear - assembly. Therefore, they completely repeat in the dance all the methods of handling weapons, and since giya is a collective dance in which many warriors participate, it is also a kind of collective action training in battle. Similar dances exist in the warlike Nilotic tribes of East Africa, in many other African nations.
This warlike Asia
Another region of the world where military dances have reached perfection is South and Southeast Asia. In the Indian states of Jharkhand and West Bengal the dance “chau” is popular. Now it is a colorful spectacle, a real performance, a very impressive viewer, but the combat component is definitely present in this dance. It is not by chance that even the name “chhau” itself can mean “military camp”. The dance includes numerous jumps and kicks, i.e. It is quite suitable as a martial arts training.
Mugallatik dance, or "dance with coconuts" is popular in the Philippine Islands. Despite such a “tasty” and peace-loving name, at the base of the maglatik is a plot on military themes. The dance is dedicated to the struggle of the inhabitants of the island of Luzon against the Spanish conquerors, and many of his movements contain the technique of punches and kicks, wrestling grips. World renown has "haka" - combat dance of the Maori, the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. Once criticized by Christian missionaries, today it rightfully ranks among the national sights of New Zealand. It is performed in the armed forces and the police of the country, as well as before the start of sporting events. These are just a few of the popular military dances; in fact, almost every nation in South and Southeast Asia, Oceania, has its own “fighting” dance tradition.
At the other end of Asia, in the Middle East, dancing with weapons, which are present in the culture of Arabs, Afghans, Kurds, is very popular. For example, in Yemen, dances from Jambia — national daggers — are very popular. In our country, the dance art of the inhabitants of the Caucasus and Transcaucasia is well known - Armenians, Georgians, Circassians, Dagestanians.
Combat gopak and others
Slavs also historically had unique dance traditions. Dance from time immemorial has been one of the main components of any festive action. As for military dance, the most famous military dance is Gopak, formed in the Zaporozhye Sech. We danced before the start of the battle - to raise morale, on holidays - imitating the movements of the Cossacks in battle - changing the level of attack, jumping, etc. Some historians call Zaporizhzhya Hopak a combat system that is not inferior to martial arts. This, of course, is an exaggeration, but one should not deny the significance of the hopak in the process of the formation of the Cossack, his training and mastering of combat techniques.
The dance, which was taught from childhood, was also an excellent physical training for the subsequent practice of martial art. They laid the basic movement, which allowed to learn the motor basis of the battle. In addition, the dance helped to develop agility, hone movement, develop strength. For example, his squatting skills could have rendered invaluable Cossack service in battle, saving his life if he remained without a horse. After all, he could very quickly dodge the blows of the enemy, using the skills obtained during the dances.
Dances of the Kuban and Terek Cossacks have much in common with the dance art of the peoples of the North Caucasus. Cossacks not only fought with their neighbors, but also lived peacefully, even friendly. There was a mutual cultural exchange and the Cossacks assimilated many components of the culture of their neighbors, including music and dance. Take, for example, the famous Cossack lezginka. Dancing with checkers served for Cossack youth in an excellent way to develop reaction speed and agility of movements, which later played a very important role in the battle. Historical scholars note that the Caucasian Cossacks largely shaped their unique philosophy and value system, not to mention the applied components of culture, under the influence of neighboring Caucasian peoples. There was a unique combination of Slavic, Caucasian, steppe components.
Interest in historical dance is growing
Now historical dances are experiencing a real rise in Russia. About why the society does not fade away interest in historical dances, including military ones, and how the formation of military dances took place, the artistic director and director of the KILIKIA dance school told the author of the article Lyudmila Aslanyan, two-time European champion and world champion in folk dancing.
“Military Review”: Lyudmila, why do historical dances, including military ones, retain relevance and popularity in our society?
L. Aslanyan: Historic military dances, or as they are often called, combat dances of the peoples of the world are very interesting. They look spectacular and even now people enjoy their performance with pleasure. For many nations, military dances are one of the most important components of their culture, they have long been danced by everyone and at any events. Take, at least, the Armenian fighting dances, the Georgian dance culture, the dances of the Cossacks.
"Military Review": What do such dances teach, what is the use of doing them?
L. Aslanyan: Firstly, military dancing is an expressive part of the folk culture, the mentality of each nation. The beauty of military dance captures, and people become interested in the culture of their people. This is useful for preserving national identity. Secondly, military dances remarkably develop the plasticity of movements, improve the physical capabilities of the body. It is very useful, well developed physically. By the way, because during the dance the dancers imitate the fighting movements, and if the dance is also with a weapon, they show how the person will act in battle. This contributes to the strengthening of self-defense skills. In modern society, such skills are very important, and many people take military dances very seriously.
Military Review: What are the features of Caucasian and Transcaucasian military dances? Do they have any differences?
L. Aslanyan: In the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, historically formed one of the most beautiful and spectacular military dances of the world. After all, the Caucasian peoples from ancient times were distinguished by their militancy. This region, unfortunately, often fought, living conditions were harsh and most people had to be well able to defend themselves against the enemy, to defend their honor. Possession of weapons in Caucasians in the blood, and dances, these skills emphasized in peacetime. So young and not very people demonstrated their skills, showed what we can do. For example, in the Armenian military dances both young men and girls dance. This is evidence of the participation of Armenian women and girls in military conflicts of the past. And, unfortunately, it is also relevant today - after all, as we know, in Syria, militias are fighting a lot against terrorists and Armenian women, Kurdish women, Yezidiks, and Assyrians.
Military Review: When and how did the formation of these military dances take place?
L. Aslanyan: The history of the military dances of the peoples of the Caucasus and Transcaucasia goes into deep antiquity, even in the pre-state period. When states existed in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, the dances were already developed and popular. For example, the Armenian dance Kochari. It formed, apparently, in Western Armenia, which is now part of modern Turkey. “Kochari” in translation from Armenian means “brave man”. The dance "Kochari" is considered the national and cultural heritage of the Armenian people.
Kochari dance in circles, holding hands or putting their hands on each other’s shoulders. Some historians believe that Kochari reflected the ancient cult of animals - the wild ram (hoi), others - that it was associated with the fertility cult, popular among Asia Minor peoples. By the way, in the victorious 1945 year, Kochari danced Armenian soldiers who served in the Red Army and reached Berlin. So in the ancient dance spun around the walls of the Reichstag. Kochari is not the only Armenian fighting dance.
Another very beautiful dance Trahag. His dance with sabers and exclusively men. Yarkhushta is also a male dance, which the men danced in front of the warriors to raise morale. It originated in the areas of Sasun, Van, Sivas. This is also not just a dance, but a real textbook of the movements of ancient martial art. In fairness, it is worth noting that martial dances of other peoples of the region, who have much in common, have a very ancient history.
What is the importance of dancing for the country
National dances, including military dances, are the history of each nation, its past, its collective identity. It is very important not to lose the accumulated cultural wealth that binds us to ancestors who lived thousands of years ago. As for military dances, their symbolic meaning plays a huge role here. It is not by chance, for example, that the New Zealand army now adopted the official old Maori dance “Haka” as the official one. This emphasizes the connection of times, creates a sense of belonging to the military to the heroic past of their country, to the national cultural traditions.
Of particular importance are national and military dances for the education of the younger generations. From time immemorial, young people were taught to dance and dance. Our ancestors saw in this teaching a deep meaning - and not only ideological, associated with the same preservation of belonging to a certain people, but also quite practical, because the dance develops a person - both physically and spiritually.