Dance direction (abstract)

European ethnographic regions have a preferential direction of their „chain dances” (i.e. in a row, side by side, non-solo, hands/shoulder/belt held): to the right (LOD/ccw) or to the left (RLOD/cw). A dividing line from north to south separates the two big European areas of preferential direction, passing between Croatia and Serbia, east of it to the right, west to the left, states Michael Hepp in his dissertation „Genese und Genealogie westeurasischer Kettentänze” (Genesis and Genealogy of West-Eurasian Chain dances, Münster/Germany 2015). The preference of a direction is so strong that dances going to the opposite direction are named respectively „left-hand dance” or the like.

The preferred dance directions are connected with positive values like „good”, „proper”, „healthful” or even „holy”; the opposite direction is regarded as evil, risky, dangerous.

M. Hepp shows that west-Eurasian chain dances spring from a common origin in the Neolithic Middle East; so they must have one original preferential direction – either to the right or to the left. A statistical analysis of pictorial documents dating from the Middle Ages back to the Neolithic shows: Originally chain dancing people danced everywhere to the left (cw). This remained unchanged west of the above mentioned dividing line, whereas a long-lasting process between 500 BC and 1000 AD turned the preferential dance direction to the right within the today’s „right dancing area”.

This development is based on a change in the ethical and religious estimation of right and left. A possible origin of this change can be attributed to ancient Rome and the Old Testament where the right side is good and salutary. Christianisation helped to bring these ideas to the rest of Europe. They did not work, however, on the last chain dances that survived in Western Europe at this time. These were gradually replaced by couple dances, since they were no more part of ritual or religious ceremonies.