Probably the oldest of the arts, dancing consists, fundamentally, of the human body in motion. Dancing of some form or another is found among the most primitive tribes today and it is fairly safe to assume that man danced from his genesis. Pictorial evidence survives from the earliest civilizations of people dancing although, because it is an ephemeral activity, any attempts to reconstruct the dances of ancient times can only be conjectural. Only with the arrival of film could exact records be made.
There are as many dance forms as there are people. Tiny children dance with delight, each in his own way. At the most sophisticated level, solo performers in the theater will translate different techniques into their own individual means of expression through movement.
The oldest surviving dance forms are probably those of the East. Hindus believe the world was created by Shiva, a dancing god, and religious themes still permeate their dances. In the Western world dancing belonged first to the ordinary people: gradually their folk dances were adapted to more formal shapes and entered the courts and then the ballrooms. From court entertainments developed the art of ballet. From ballet came the reactions of reformers who wanted a freer kind of barefoot dance.
In every society dance forms learn from or influence each other. There are no segregated areas except within religious sects. Basically there are two forms of dancing: one to be enjoyed by the dancers themselves and the other to be watched by an audience. In the first category come folk and social dancing; in the second ballet, modern dance and folk or traditional dancing that has been adapted for theatrical presentation, and also such highly stylized forms as Japanese Noh, or even the choric passages in Greek tragedy. The ancient Greeks held the discipline of dance, the harmony of mind and body, in high esteem.
Dancing as an art form usually reaches its highest peak when closely allied to great music. But beautiful dances have been performed in total silence. It is the harnessing of movement to an underlying rhythm that distinguishes dance from random movement.