Art/ Dance Academy

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The Ancient Phoenicians and Roman Dance

Posted by [email protected] on January 9, 2019 at 6:10 PM

The Ancient Phoenicians and Roman Dance

 There are several forms of the dance in Lebanon today which originated from what it was called back in ancient times, Phoenicia. The Debke, Raks Sharki and the Andulusian Moushahat just for starters. There are several forms of the dance in Lebanon today which originated from what it was called back in ancient times, Phoenicia. The Debke, Raks Sharki and the Andulusian Moushahat just for starters. The origins of Raks Sharki/Belly Dance also found in the Ancient Egyptian background as they were neighbors and often traded across the Mediterranean Sea. The Ancient Phoenicians were spiritual people and danced to worship their gods and goddesses. Astarte was the goddess of life. They believed the female body was sacred.

 Rhythm was the basic element of the dance. The dances were ritualistic. Simple loud, rhythms, had effect on the human psyche. The chorus dance was performed in a circle to honor a god or goddess. Dance was also a display of rejoicing in celebration. There is a Phoenician, Canaanite engravings from as early as 1400 BC depict another appeal of dancing. Dancers accompanied by musicians. This requires no elaboration. Dance was also used as a political ploy.  There is a striking similarity in the below picture to modern day Debke. It predates the Arabs and most other invaders of the land of the Phoenicians. In Lebanon today the Debke is still danced and is one of its most famous traditions. It has been passed down from generation to generation and is performed by all. It is the National Dance of Lebanon.

The Adalusian Moushahat is a court dance in Lebanon and Raks Sharki/Belly Dance are also still performed. Raks Sharki is still in almost every household. There are remnants of a woman doing a skirt dance. Whirling dances were also performed. Acrobatics were also added for enjoyment. The artistry of Belly Dance continues today in most Lebanese communities

 The island of Crete which is now considered Greece but is just off the coast of Lebanon and was considered Phoenicia. It was also where the Phoenicians lived so they are included in this piece. It was a stepping stone between Egypt and Greece. Each civilization borrowed from the other with Phoenicia in the middle. The Phoenicians built boats from Cedar that grew in Lebanon. Gave us our first alphabet and discovered the color purple. Ancient Phoenicians worked the entire Mediterranean Sea from Lebanon to Malta. Lebanon is the first country in Asia on the east and sits at the west side of the Mediterranean Sea.


The Phoenicians along with the Greeks from Crete brought their culture, architecture, mythology, institutions and art to the Italian peninsula which provided the foundation for the development of Roman dance. Plus, the largest Roman ruins in the world are located at Baalbek in Lebanon. The 41 year of Roman reign by Augustus (The Golden Age) led to 200 hundred years of peace. During this time art and literature flourished. Visiting teachers taught music and dance. Tolerance of cultural differences was one thing the Romans taught us.

Professional dancers, flute players and acrobats were imported from Greece and elsewhere. The dancers were called “crotalisterias” because they wore bells and clappers (early finger cymbals). (Note finger cymbals on the modern dancer above. Also there are ancient pictures from Phoenicia with girls wearing brass cymbals.) Strolling players performed. Pantomime came into being. Burlesque was born. The Latin word for dance was “saltio”. The root word “sal” came from the Phoenicians. Their priestly leaders were called “salii”. Dance elements yielded three elements: 1. Motion = An all-encompassing term. 2. Posture= The dancers or actors’ attitude. 3. Indication = Gesture.

When the Roman empire fell in 476 AD the world was plunged into a long period where only the church and powerful nobles provided structure for society. From history you can tell the quality of a country and its leaders by the quantity and quality of the country’s art.

Categories: Dance History

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