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A Review of

Ancient Egyptian Dances

by Irena Lexova

 

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Summary

This book, originally published in 1935, contains analysis of dance images found in Egyptology journals. It provides an overview of ancient Egyptian dance based on information that was available at the time.
Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

Ancient Egyptian Dances

Author

Irena Lexova

ISBN

0-486-40906-6

Publisher

Dover Publications, Inc.

Category

Non-Fiction: Dance History

Rating

StarStarStar

Number of Pages

161

Published In

1935

 

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Description

This book analyzes images from ancient Egypt and articles written about them in Egyptology journals to determine what they reveal about ancient Egyptian dance. Originally published in Czechoslovakia in 1935, it was the first piece of research to focus specifically on what types of dances were performed by the ancient Egyptians, and for what purposes. Prior books about ancient Egypt featured occasional mentions of dance, but this was the first research entirely dedicated to dance.

The idea for this research was born in the early 20th century when Dr. Frantisek Lexa was appalled by the awkward poses and jerky movements that a modern dance troupe claimed had been inspired by ancient Egyptian pictures. When his daughter Irena became his student at the university, he assigned her the research project of looking for the truth behind the claims. This book contains her findings, translated from the original language into English.

A significant portion of the book consists of reproductions of 78 drawings, arranged chronologically. The text refers to these many times throughout the book, and I find the drawings to be very valuable.

The book classifies dances into various categories, such as gymnastic, imitative, war, funeral, and religious, then describes examples of dances found in each category. It refers to the drawings at the back of the book to illustrate key points.

There is also an extensive bibliography, but in order to take advantage of it you would probably need access to a research library that participates in inter-library loan programs, and you would also need to be able to read German (or know somebody who does).

It's important to realize that the author of this book is not an Egyptologist. Instead, she's a college student who has examined published journal articles by Egyptologists and organized her findings into this book. The level of skill involved in analyzing the information and presenting it is on the level of a well-written undergraduate college student's class paper. The research skills that went into creating this study are not at the level of a professional researcher.

It's also important to note that this book dates back to 1935. It has been almost a century since Lexova's original research, and since then many more discoveries have been made, many more journal articles written by Egyptologists.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You are interested in learning about Pharaonic dance.
  • You're looking for information that is based on identifiable evidence rather than on sweeping romantic claims about "the oldest dance".
  • You'd like a place to start in learning about dance styles that were done in ancient Egypt.

 

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You would dislike dealing with text that is difficult to read.
  • You're looking for research that incorporates recent discoveries.
  • You're looking for findings by a professional Egyptologist.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • The book provides a helpful introduction to the topic of ancient Egyptian dance.
  • The author's claims are based directly on actual source material (the images), sticking strictly to the available evidence.
  • There is evidence to support all the author's claims, and that evidence is included in the book.
  • This book has been carefully researched, using meticulous analysis and investigative techniques. The author attempts to interpret ancient pictures in a realistic, factual way.
  • This book is much more credible than much other historical dance research I have read.
  • The table of contents is very detailed. I found myself referring back to it frequently.
  • I found the many reproductions of ancient drawings to be very helpful, and I really appreciated the fact that they were arranged in chronological order. Not only do they provide a sense of what Egyptian dances might have been like, they also offer ideas for costuming and hair styles.
  • The translator who created the English-language text did so quite skillfully.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • The footnotes do not identify the primary source (actual tomb or temple) in which the images were found. Instead, the footnoes identify the secondary sources (journal articles) where the author found the images.
  • The stilted language of the text makes it difficult to read.
  • The book is a bit too dry at times.
  • The text frequently refers to the illustrations, which means that in order to make sense of what the text is saying I need to flip back and forth frequently between the text and the corresponding pictures. This can be rather tedious.
  • The research was performed in the 1930's, and therefore lacks input from more recent discoveries. It would be nice to see updated research that builds on Lexova's original work but incorporates additional information from more recently-discovered pictures and texts.
  • It's very frustrating that this book doesn't have an index. I like to use research books as reference sources, using the index to refer back to useful passages, so the lack of an index limits my ability to do that with this one.

 

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Conclusion

Lexova has offered us a useful starting point in beginning to understand what types of dances may have been done in ancient Egypt. She has compiled some fascinating drawings, and performed some helpful analysis of them. I would recommend using this book as a starting point in discovering what ancient Egyptian dance was like, but at the same time I would encourage you to look for more recent works in the field to learn about discoveries and analyses that have been made since Lexova's research was published in 1935.

Reading this book won't tell you everything there is worth knowing about ancient Egyptian dance. But it will introduce you to the topic. It's not a bad place to start.

 

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Disclosures

There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.

 

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