First values: the love and ecstasy of the dance

The British mythopoetic wise man, Martin Shaw after a vigil of 101 days just before Covid 19 was left with these words: 

Inhabit the time and genesis of your own being

This has returned Shaw to an understanding of the Christianity which he abandoned at 17

and which is now infused with the learnings of his life’s work.




Cave painting, 7000-5000 BCE, Tassili n’Ajjer National Park, Morocco. Photo from the net




I continue to think that the time and genesis of our original home is the late Paleolithic

when the DNA of our species began to be stabilized

and our forebears had spread themselves across several continents

and the consciousness of our species began to show up in cave drawings all over the world.





In Gary Snyder’s words, these are the values embedded in the Paleolithic and in the genesis of our being. 


As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic;

the fertility of the soil,

the magic of animals,

the power-vision in solitude,

the terrifying initiation and rebirth;

the love and ecstasy of the dance,

the common work of the tribe.


— Gary Snyder, American born 1930, in Earth House Hold, 1969






Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), Chola period (880-1279), 11th century, copper alloy, Tamil Nadu, India

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


Museum guidance:

‘….. (This symbol of Shiva) combines in a single image Shiva’s roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time.

The never-ending cycle of time.

Although it appeared in sculpture as early as the fifth century, its present, world-famous form evolved under the rule of the Cholas.


Shiva’s dance is set within a flaming halo. The god holds in his upper right hand the damaru (hand drum that made the first sounds of creation).

His upper left hand holds agni (the fire that will destroy the universe).

With his lower right hand, he makes abhayamudra (the gesture that allays fear).

The dwarflike figure being trampled by his right foot represents apasmara purusha (illusion, which leads mankind astray).

Shiva’s front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, signifies refuge for the troubled soul.

The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides.

The symbols imply that, through belief in Shiva, his devotees can achieve salvation.’








Broken Dance, Ethnic Heritage Series, 1978-1982. Stainless steel, wood, leather, sewn cloth, ammunition box.

John Outerbridge, 1930-2020, American.  MOMA, NY


An evocation using dance of the deformations of slavery of a people’s life.









The Little Dancer, executed in wax 1878-81, in bronze after 1922.

Edgar Degas,1834-1917, French.  Philadelphia Art Museum






Dancers at the Barre, late 1880s-1900, oil on canvas.

Edgar Degas,1834-1917, French.  The Phillips , Washington, DC





Dancers, Pink and Green, 1890, oil on canvas. 

Edgar Degas,1834-1917, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY






At the Moulin Rouge:  the Dance, 1889-1890, oil on canvas. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864 – 1901.  Philadelphia Art Museum





Loie Fuller in 1902. Unknown photographer.  Photograph on display at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021.


Loie Fuller, 1862-1928, American, was a dancer who danced in Paris from 1895 on.









Round Dance, 1909, oil on canvas. 

Emil Nolde, 1867-1956, German.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC







Dancer at Pigalle’s, 1912, oil and sequins on sculpted gesso on artist’s canvasboard. 

Gino Severini, 1863-1966, Italian.  Baltimore Museum of Art





Dances at the Spring, 1912, oil on canvas.

Frances Picabia, 1897-1953.  Philadelphia Art Museum


The source of this painting is the dancing of peasants outside Naples which the artist witnessed on his honeymoon.  This painting caused a sensation at the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York.





Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin, 1912, oil on canvas with sequins, 1912.

Gino Severini, 1883-1966, Italian.  MOMA, NY

The dancehall as a multi-sensory experience painted by the Italian nationalist and Futurist.





Day of Good Fortune, 1914, oil on canvas.

Arthur B. Davies, 1862-1928, American.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, NY







Untitled (Dancer), c.1922, matte opaque paint with gold and silver metallic paints over graphite on board.

Emilio Amero, 1901-1976, Mexican.  Philadelphia Museum of Art







Costume design for Vaslav Nijinsky in the role of  Iksender in the ballet ‘La Peri’ (The Flower of Immortality);  watercolour and gold and silver paint over graphite; 1922.


Leon Bakst, 1866-1924, Russian, for the Ballets Russes.







Dance in Tehuantepec, 1928, oil on canvas. 

Diego Rivera, 1886-1967, Mexican.  Exhibited in the winter of 2016 at the Philadelphia Art Museum in an exhibition about the art of the Mexican Revolution. 






Jam Session, 1943, oil on canvas.

Claude Clark, 1915-2001, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum






Untitled (The Dancers), 1944, oil on canvas

Stanley William Hayter, 1901-1988, English.  Promised gift to the Philadelphia Art Museum







Dancers from the Dancer Series, 1975, acrylic on canvas .

Charles Searle, American, 1937-2004.  Private collection on loan to Woodmere Museum of Art in 2007


The artist was long involved as artist and dancer with Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center in Philadelphia, founded in 1969. 

Its primary inspiration was the Yoruba religion and philosophical system.






The Dance, 1987, oil on carved, painted plywood.

Frank Hyder, American born 1951.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia







Snow Hill, 1989, tempera on hardboard panel. 

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009.  On display at the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA in the 100th year of the artist’s death.


A dreamscape and memorial to the people the artists had known for 50 years at Chadds Ford.






Ghost Dance Dress, 2000.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith,  born 1940 Confederated Salish and Kootenai Indian Reservation, Montana, United States of America.  Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY



The Ghost Dance is a North American Indian politico-religious institution involving, as its most important element, a dance incorporated into the traditional American Indian circle dance. 

Originated by a leader of the Northern Paiute in the late 1880s, the institution spread from tribe to tribe, taking on local coloration and a political significance which influenced resistance to white American rule.

Its central belief was that the dance would bring the spirits of the dead to the aid of the living in the fight against white colonists.  And would lead to an era of peace and prosperity.

The Ghost Dance is thought to have gone into decline after the massacre of the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee in 1890.

The Ghost Dance was danced by the Lakota in 1973 at Wounded Knee. It is believed that it continues to be incorporated in the private ceremonies of several American Indian groups.







Do the Dance, 2005, oil on canvas on wood.

Elizabeth Murray, 1940-2007, American.  ?MOMA, NY





Invitation to the Dance with Elena Sudakova, 2008, digital print.

Solve Sundsbo, Norwegian born 1970. 

On display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2015 in an exhibition of the work of the fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier (French born 1952).




The Odunde

Dancing is an intrinsic part of the Odunde. 


Every June in Philadelphia, the adepts of Oshun –the orisha of the divine feminine, of rivers, of divination and fertility of the Yoruba religious tradition – 

process to one of the city’s two rivers to give thanks for the fertility of the land. 

They have been joined in recent years by followers of Candomble and Santeria. 





Dancing is an intrinsic part of Hinduism. 

Here women belonging to the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) are dancing on the occasion of Dussehara in October 2008. 

A farm north of Ahmedabad, Gujerat state.











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