Sign language can make dancing in the World of Isles very expressive, and certainly can make the meanings of dances much more explicit than they are on Earth. Dances in the World of Isles are like songs—people learn the steps and gestures of dances the way we used to learn the words and choruses of songs before we had transistor radios. Of course, they often learn the words to the accompanying music as well. A dance in the World of Isles can tell a story, as a ballad does. Such narrative dances are the root from which Gehennese theatre developed, though they were not displaced by it.

Dance, often narrative, plays a big part in Gehennese worship. In most sacred dances selected performers dance the important parts in a legend or allegory, while the rest of the congregation dance chorus parts. Character parts in important ceremonies bring the dancer much kudos, and competition to dance them is often fierce.

Martial skills are often taught in the form of dance, to ephebes, for example. These war-dances combine features of parade-ground drills and the ‘forms’ of martial arts. The spear-dances and pike-dances taught to hoplites are rather dull, so the more flamboyant sword[-dances dagger-dances, and shield-and-mace dances of bygone days are preserved as a vehicle for displays of agility and prowess.

In the Archaic Period both men and women dance for enjoyment and display at parties and celebrations, but not together. At most a dance will have parts for men and women, but they will not touch one another, or only touch one another’s hands.

In the Classical Period balls have appeared as a common entertainment, and mixed dancing is the rule. Nevertheless physical contact between men and woman dancing together is limited, and dances in which a couple dance together apart from other dancers are newfangled, and are considered not quite decorous—girls from conservative families, especially in the provinces, are not permitted by their chaperones to take part.

In the Decadent Period couples dancing is the rule at balls, though older mixed dances are included, and are thought more suitable for children. An elaborate etiquette for choosing partners has emerged, which does not include ‘cutting-in’. If a woman dances successive dances with the same man, or conspicuously more with one man than others, this shows great favour, and can give rise to gossip and even minor scandal.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.