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Dances: Visual Elements and Historical Context


Having multiple social and cultural functions, dance has always been viewed as a mixture of the tradition and the means of self-expression. Therefore, as an art form, dance represents a very complex notion worth researching further (Predovan et al., 2019). Remarkably, despite belonging of the same category of dance, the practices demonstrating each of the specified functions rarely intersect, therefore, allowing dance to become the ultimate element of defining a particular culture (Atkins et al., 2018). Having been created in different eras and cultures, as well as designed for different purposes, the dancing role of a shaman, that one of the geisha dance, the focus of the Spanish Fandango, and the intended meaning of the Quadrille serve different purposes due to the difference in the functions for which they were designed.

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The differences in the perspectives that each of the dances provides on further scrutiny will be analyzed in this paper by examining both different elements of dance as well as its belonging to either the participatory, social, or performative type. Specifically, the visual elements such as movements and form will be assessed alongside the historical context and the tradition associated with the dances in question (namely, the production process). Despite having seemingly little in common with each other, the dances in question have a similar purpose of serving as the source of emotional release and the means of establishing a social hierarchy.



When considering the dances in question, together, the first point of difference that leaps into the plain sight is the difference in movements. The smoothness and the clockwork, orderly nature of quadrille and the geisha dance is juxtaposed to the seemingly chaotic dancing of the shaman and the rebellious nature of the fandango.

However, conducting a more nuanced scrutiny of the dances under analysis, one will note that the element of chaos, while unmistakably present in some of the dance types, such as the shaman’s movements, appears as such only to the untrained eye of an average member of the White European or American culture. In fact, the movements of the shaman are measured and defined by strict principles that the dancing ritual suggests, which also places several restrictions on the type of motions and moves that a shaman can make (Moldakhmetova et al., 2018). From the perspective of the BESS (Body, Effort, Space, and Shape), the “Body” element appears to be used to perform ritual movements, which are believed to produce a certain effect according to the traditions and religion of a specific tribe.

Similarly, the geisha dance incorporates a series of steps that re carefully and persistently rehearsed prior to starting the actual dance. Although the geisha dance does not follow the same rigid protocol as traditional European or American dances do, it still has a limited range of moves and poses, each being assigned a specific meaning and, when placed together, creating a unique tapestry of an emotional and artistic narrative. In this context, the “Body” element also serves to demonstrate a specific function, namely, that one of the hierarchy within the Japanese society.

Moving to dance as it is interpreted in European culture, one will notice much more rigid adherence to a more limited range of steps that do not convey the same emotional range as the two dances mentioned above do. Nonetheless, the emotional impact is still present, even though it is expressed through a different medium. Specifically, in Spanish fandango, the movements include hand clapping and the tapping of the feet. The increase in the pace and intensity of the clapping, as well as the speed of the dance movements, indicates a rise in the emotional impact and the passion of the dancers, with the tension rising consistently throughout the dance (Daria, 2021). The highly motive nature of the “Body” element in Fandango indicates that the nature of the dance is much more emotional than the previous two.

In turn, a more reserved English quadrille, which was initially supposed to accompany an opera performance, is based on rigid moves within the “Body” element, with clearly delineated steps that must be performed in an exact succession. The striking difference that the specified orderliness represents compared to the Spanish fandango, not to mention the shaman’s dance, allows reflecting on the specifics of British culture, which in itself is famous for its representatives being reserved and often considered emotionally distanced (Kabir, 2020). In fact, with its conservative nature and being emotionally reserved, quadrille is much closer to the dance o geisha rather than Spanish fandango. Indeed, the well-trained and accurate movements of dancers in both cases indicate a similar need for precision and appreciation for tradition.

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Likewise, the dances in question differ from each other in the remaining aspects of the BES framework as well. On the one hand, the observed difference is to be expected, with the four dances belonging to different types, the shaman’s dance and quadrille representing the social aspect to a much greater extent, whereas the geisha dance tends to speak to the Japanese social hierarchy, and Spanish fandango being the pinnacle of performative dancing. However, the difference under analysis not only informs their functions within their communities, but also the nature of interactions between the participants of the dance. Specifically, while the dance of a shaman and that one of a geisha typically imply a single-dancer performance, the remaining two suggest that a team of two partners should be involved. The described difference informs the social function of a dance, delineating the relationships between the dancing partners. The “Effort” and “Shape” of the BESS framework should be mentioned specifically when evaluating the dances in question (Dunphy et al., 2021; Mattsson & Larsson, 2021). Namely, despite the differences in the origins and meaning of each of the dance, all of the four appear to demand a highly intense and concentrated effort, even though the manifestations of this effort are slightly different. Namely, what Cartagena (2020) defined as the “emotional landscape” (Chapter 2) of each dance is intense and captivating.


In turn, the forms of the selected dance routines are also slightly different from each other. The shaman dance is the one that stands out from the rest of the group in this case since it appears remarkably more complex, being structured on the premise of the ABA form. The specified characteristic of the dance in question might not seem as surprising when considering the fact that the shaman dance is, in its essence, a part of a more complex routine and, therefore, a compound of an established ritual narrative (Moura & Alves, 2020). Therefore, the ABA structure, which suggests the presence of an introductory element, the development, and the conclusion renders the implied meaning of the shaman dance perfectly. In this context, the ABA structure of the geisha dance suggests a rather similar interpretation since the specified performance is a part of a more nuanced routine of a geisha’s performance and, therefore, it must conform with the tradition of a narrative with its beginning, development, and ending (Druz et al., 2019). In comparison to the two dances mentioned above, quadrille is represented by a similar AB form, which is also observed in fandango.


The origins of the dances under analysis are the most divisive aspects of them since each dance is strongly connected to the era that produced it. Specifically, the shaman dance originates together with the indigenous culture to which it is typically attached, which means that its origins are mostly impossible to track down or verify (Winkelman, 2019). In comparison, the geisha dance has a more definitive nature, with its origin dating back to the 7th-century China, when the culture of female entertainers emerged in it (Foreman, 2017). In turn, fandango, which is typically linked to the Spanish culture, is known to have originated from Andalusia (Spain) and gained popularity in the 18th century (Power-Sotomayor, 2020). Finally, quadrille, which requires the participation of four couples, was created in France in the 19th century (Nocilli, 2020). Therefore, the difference between the dances is defined by their cultural backgrounds and meaning.


As emphasized above, the dances under analysis often exist on the verge of two different types colliding, which means that their intent may not be as predictable as it might seem. For instance, while the shaman dance is typically seen as the element of a religious tradition and, therefore, should be classified as participatory, it also contains noticeable performative elements since a shaman often engages emotionally in the dancing routine (Zhang & Dang, 2019). In turn, quadrille as the dance performed on social occasions bears a clear social intent, with a minor performative element in it. Similarly, fandango has a distinctive performative side to it, yet it also draws a distinctive line between the social aspects of interactions between sexes, thus, delineating their gender roles (del Razo Martínez, 2019). In this context, quadrille is the easiest to identify as a social dance since it was practices in groups of four with couples on social occasions (Fatrina & Stevenson, 2018).

Production Elements

Finally, there is a certain overlap between the four types of dances in terms of their production elements. Namely, all of them require the presence of specific costumes that are appropriate for the occasion, of the shaman’s consume to the garments typically used in quadrille and fandango, not to mention a geisha’s elaborate costume. Likewise, even though the music accompanying each dance is quite different due to the gap in the tastes associated with each culture and time period, music is an indispensable part of the performance (Georgios, 2018). Although props are only associated with the dances of a shaman and a geisha, the locations are also clearly delineated for each dance. Specifically, a shaman’s dance is usually performed in a place defined as a religious sanctuary, whereas a geisha performs her dance on a scene (Innami, 2019). Finally, fandango is typically practiced in a drawing-room, whereas a quadrille was performed in ballrooms (del Sur, 2018).


Although the analysis of the dances in question points to the surface differences in the form and specifics of the movement, more nuanced characteristics of the dances in question indicate that they share a similar nature of supporting the social hierarchy while serving as the means of an emotional release. Nonetheless, the differences found across the dances in question help to delve into the specifics of the cultures that produced them, thus, gaining a deeper meaning of how these cultures envisioned the idea of the social structure and the idea of artistic expression of one’s emotions through movement.


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