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WAR type dances

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Pyrric_Alma-Tadema Pyrrhic Dance London Guildhall

                                War dances are general, and of many varieties. They are sometimes a preparation for war, corresponding to the Pyrrhic dance (pictured) of classic period, and to our modern drill. Such, for instance, is the 'No Flight' dance of the Dakota Indians. Young men are instructed in its movements by a sort of drill, accompanied by the recital of heroic deeds. These dances were said to be rare, for they denoted a foresight which the savage seldom possessed; but dances preceding the battle, and having for their object the incitement of the warriors to a state of frenzy, were described by various travellers.

            Dances rehearsing the deeds of the gods were solemnized round the altar or statue, while hymns were sung in three parts: the Strophe , while turning from east to west; the Antistrophe , west to east; then the Epode , or end of the song, in front of the altar. There were two really beautiful dances,

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the martial Pyrrhic and the tragic Emmeleia. (According to Lucian), the latter owes its name toa follower of Dionysos . All philosophers were full of praise of the elegance and majesty of this dance, and they encouraged its practice by every class of society. The Dionysiac or Bacchic festivals were entirely composed of the three dramatic dances: the Emmeleia, the Kordax, and the Sikinnis (tragic, comic, and satyric).

    * The dithyramb or Bacchic hymn was also called a circular hymn. In olden times it consisted of fifty men, then it was diminished to twelve, and arranged in the form of a military company; in regular rank and file. The Curetes , or priests of Cybele, performed a martial dance, beating loudly on their shields. This practice was supposed to be in order to drown the cries of the infant Zeus, and to prevent his being eaten by his father Kronos , who was rather inclined to eat his surplus infants, especially when they cried. A dance representing this mythological detail was performed in Crete, and called Kronou Teknophagia. (see: Mythology page)

    * The Wallachian is probably an ancient Bacchie dance performed by a small number who represent the vintners crushing the grape in the casks. The Candiote is described as the modern dance of the Labyrinth. Allied to it is the Crane dance, celebrating the return Curetes dancing and beating on their Shields so as to down the cries of the infant Zeus (From a terra-cotta relief) of spring, announced by the arrival of the cranes. In Sparta , after 600 B.C., cultivated only the military arts, and the city became an armed camp, established by Lycurgus, in reaction to a Messenian revolt. Spartan girls danced with one knee bared in honor of Athene, many of these girl's would be dancing in armour (from Greek vase painting, about 450 B.C.).

    * Arnaöut, the Albanian Dance is usually danced by the Albanians in full armour, and is supposed to be the ancient Pyrrhic dance. Wilder groups amuse themselves in the Pyrrhic dance of the Spacchiotes, danced in short kirtles, long boots, with a quiver of arrows and bent bow; the Klepht and Albanian dances, where a long chain of dancers is led by a coryphæeus. He nods his head or waves a handkerchief, to mark the time.

    * Gymnopaidia, a war like dance was performed by two groups of youths and children, quite nude, singing hymns by Thaletas , a poet who is said to have introduced into Sparta a more vehement style both of music and dance, with the Kretic and Paeonic rhythm. Other hymns were sung, those of Alkman dating from 627 B.C .; and the pæans of Dionysodotos. These Gymnopaidia, mentioned by Pausanias as a favourite sport and dance, go back to the LIX Olympiad . They were as much processions as dances. The leaders were called Thyreatics, in memory of the victory of Thyrea, and they carried wreaths of palms. Sometimes the pageant was held in honour of those who fell at Thyrea or Thermopylæ .

     * The Laconian , composed of three choruses representing the past, present, and future, was a military dance, calculated to give the Lacedæmonians strength and agility in using their weapons . Verses also accompanied this dance.

    * Pyrrhic, (Pyrrhica Saltatio). This dance imitated those movements and positions of the body, by the aid of which the wounds or darts of any enemy were avoided, that is, by bending flying away, leaping, and stooping. The attitudes also of the party attacking were described; the hurling of the javelin, and the postures when aiming a blow with the sword. The invention of this dance is variously attributed to Pyrrhus (neoptolemus - son of Achilles,) the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) , the Cureres , Athene , and to Achilles , in honour of Patroclus and is Greek in origin, however was very popular with the Romans. The Scottish Highlanders called it the Killie-Kallum (Ghillie-Callum). It was accompanied by the flute, and danced by armed warriors, simulating warlike deeds, with all the proper manoeuvres for attack and defence. The four divisions were:

    1) Podism, or footing, a quick motion such as night be required for overtaking the enemy (and, for fleeing);
    2) Xiphism, or sham fight;
    3) Kosmos, with very high leaping or vaulting, a training for the jumping of ditches or walls; and, lastly,
    4) Tetracomos, a square figure with slow, majestic measure.

    * The Pyrrhic was often carried out on horseback, and, on the other hand, it might be merely indicated by Cheironomia. Properly it was a Dorian gymnastic dance , but it gave its name to a whole class of dances, and practically it covered the same ground as the ballet. Originally danced by men only, it developed into a mixed dance, The Pyrrhic Chorus and afterwards a female partner for each executant was added. Dædalus was said to have been the conceiver of this happy thought. His dance was that taught to the seven youths and maidens saved from the Cretan labyrinth by Theseus .

    * Xenophon describes a Mysian war dance with round shields to the sound of the flute. An Arcadian maiden was introduced and much applauded in this. (Anabasis, lib. vi.)

    Another of this warlike class, of which the subject was the invasion of India by Dionysos and Pentheus , was in honour of Dionysos. The victories of the deity over the Hindoos, and the history of Pentheus, were represented, the executants carrying thyrsi and torches instead of weapons. The learned Scaliger pretended to be able to reproduce a Pyrrhic dance, and actually performed one in full costume before Maximilian I ., much to that emperor's astonishment.

    * Hormos, though graceful and lively, was a war dance invented by Lycurgus. It was formed by youths and maidens alternating, and representing the shape of a winding necklace. The men tried to outdo each other in the variety of their warlike positions, their partners following with modest and graceful steps. A leader, playing the lyre, regulated the movements of the rest. The whole dance pictured manly courage contrasted with feminine modesty, the maidens making slow movements to two or three steps of their partners, yet all these diversified actions were guided by the same music. Some lines in the 'Iliad,' describing the shield of Achilles, are applicable equally to the Hormos and other war-dances.

    * Geranos, or Crane dance, representing the intricacies of the Cretan labyrinth . The dancers went in line, following a thread, as it were, and performed evolutions similar to those of a flight of cranes. In Winckelmann's 'Monumenti Antichi' an ancient vase on which Theseus is portrayed. He holds the famous clue which save his from the maze, while Ariadne, clad in a close-fitting Greek garment, which falls to the feet, bears in her two hands a thread. On such a model is this dance performed in modern Greece. It was introduced in the festival of Apollo at Delos by young Athenian theori, and by the Delians.

    * This great Delian festival , which survived to the Roman period, took place every five years in the spring and on the sixth day of the month. Artemis was first worshipped, and then Apollo . The maidens of Delos, crowned with flowers and garbed in festal attire, danced to joyful choruses round the altars of the two deities, and set forth in sacred ballets the story of the birth of Apollo and Artemis, with the adventures of their mother, Latona . Choruses and hymns followed, regulating the dancers, who held garlands to hang before the statue of Aphrodite . The theori, who were chosen from the noblest Athenians to offer special sacrifices to national gods, and had been conducted from Athens to Delos in a vessel of their own, were a brilliant group. After the sacrifice followed the dance in which the women imitated the movement of the island when it was still supposed to be tossed by the sea.

    ~ Danza Antigua de Hermigua is an ancient warrior dance from the Hermigua region in the Gomera Island (Canary Islands, Spain). Accompanied by drums and chácaras (large castanets).
    ~ The Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts/dance style developed by the slaves of Brazil to teach each other how to defend themselves. The music and Instruments are as unique as the dance themselves.
    ~ Serra (óÝññá) comes from Pontos. Homer depicted a dance called Pyrrihos , which was a war dance and many Pontiacs of Ponthos preserved various customs, this dance is believed to be the Pyrrihos.





Greece n/a convent at Athens
Spain   Delos
Celtic Lands    

Sheet Music




n/a 3/8/1854 - Gleason's Pictorial Newspaper (NY) n/a Delian Festival
Associated Names

Poets / Writers / Artists



Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Pyrrhic 1869) Maximilian I Scaliger Choreutai
  Thesus Bacchus
  Apollo Goddess Rhea

Associated Dances

Arnaöut Dance of the Labyrinth (Candiote) Gymnopaidia Pyrrhic
Bacchie (Bacchus, Bacchanal) Danza Antigua de Hermigua Hormos Pyrrhic of the Spacchiotes
Brokel Dantza (Basque combat dance) Dorian Isolano Dance (Archipelago Islands) Sikinnis
Candiote edo carrica dantza Khevsuruli Sword Dance
Capoeira Ellis Khorumi Taskwin
Caryatas Emmeleia Kordax Taskwin
Crane Dance Geranos Mysian Wallachian

Books / Articles

Title Writer Date Publisher
Dancing Lilly Grove 1907 Longmans, Green & Co.

Historic Musicians

Various Music Titles

n/a Hyporchematic
  1559 -Perth Glovers' March

Research words to help your searches!

Rapier (dance) Sabre (dance) Shield (dance)
Dagger (dance) Highland Fling Armed dance
Military (dance) Drills Combat
Sword (dance) Javelins Martial Arts
October 20, 2012