Ancient Greeks believed that dance was divinely inspired. Plato said it arose from youths' natural desire to express emotions, especially joy. The ancient Greeks devised elaborate line dances to celebrate the harvest, happy occasions and to pay tribute to the gods. While ancient Greek dance was not constrained to specially designed dance floors, the design and function of Greek dance floors is particularly important even today, as it is the genesis of Western theater traditions.
Early Greek dance was most likely done on a circular paved area -- called a chorostasi, which is the origin of the word "chorus" -- where wheat was harvested. Dance took place as a communal way of celebrating the harvest. The threshing floor itself was called "orchestra," from the Greek word for dance, "orchesis." In time, the orchestra became the focal point of rituals and festivities leading to the birth of Greek tragedy. The circle is an important symbol in ancient Greek dance, representing the sun, moon and other heavenly bodies thought to dance in the sky and infinity.
Folk dances done on threshing circle dancing floors eventually evolved into dramatic dance-songs known as the dithyramb, with storylines written in tribute to Dionysus, god of wine and fertility. In time, these performances developed elements of antiphonal, or call-and-response singing and dancing, and a recurring character named Thespis was introduced to them, thus providing the foundation what would become theater.
Dance floors eventually evolved into amphitheaters with "choros," where the dance floor and the dances performed on them were so closely associated that scholars are unclear which element "choros" was meant to refer to. According to Greek scholar --mür Harmansah quoted by Michael Lahanas, choros "either signified the choral dance or the magical space where the dance was performed: namely the dancing floor. The ancient scholars interpreted choros as a place... complete with columns and statues arranged in a circle."
Shield of Achilles
In Book 18 of "The Iliad," Homer describes The Shield of Achilles, an large work of art ornately decorated with, among other scenes, people dancing. Excerpts of his description demonstrate the esteem in which the Greeks held dance: "[A]n elaborately crafted dancing floor ... On that floor, young men and women ... were dancing, holding onto one another by the wrists.... They turned with such a graceful ease on skilful feet... Then they would line up and run towards each other. A large crowd stood around, enjoying the dancing magic, as in the middle two acrobats led on the dance, springing, and whirling, and tumbling."
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images