Paul Halmos
The Decline of the Choral Dance

FE Note: This is an excerpted version of Halmos’ article which appears in Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society (Dell 1962)

“One may judge of a King by the state of dancing during his reign.”

—Ancient Chinese maxim.

Artistic expression, even when dilettante, is one of the most satisfactory forms of objectifying and thus projecting inner tensions. The dance is undoubtedly the most ancient form of artistic expression; its unique position among the arts is guaranteed by more than mere seniority: as we have seen, the dance is essentially a cooperative art, an art of the group and not of the solitary individual. Though there are isolated examples of solo and couple dances among primitive peoples, they are not truly solo or couple performances; they presuppose the presence of singing and rhythmically tapping audiences who open the dance or who join in it later. In pre-cultural human society, dance must have been a universal form of expressing strong emotions collectively. Admittedly, there have been reports of some danceless peoples, yet so long as we accept testimonies from observers on animal-dances—e.g., Kohler’s reports that his apes had danced too—we cannot be far wrong in concluding that the dance was a universal play-form in pre-cultural communities.