Fragment of Painting from Tomb of the Dancers

In this fragment painting from the Tomb of the Dancers, the girls are performing to the accompaniment of of clapping and finger-snapping, under the supervision of two male overseers.

The occasion is perhaps a festival dance in honor of Hathor, goddess of music and dancing and also protector of the tombs of Western Thebes.

Fragment of Wall Painting from the Tomb of the Dancers
Fragment of Wall Painting from the Tomb of the Dancers

“The ancient Egyptians were a dance-loving people. Dancers were commonly depicted on murals, tomb paintings and temple engravings. Ideographs show a man dancing to represent joy and happiness. Pictorial representations and written records from as early as 3000 B.C. are offered as evidence that dance has a long history in the Nile kingdom.

Dance was part of the Egyptian ethos and featured prominently in religious ritual and ceremony on social occasions and in Egyptian funerary practices regarding the afterlife.”The study of ancient Egyptian dance is based mostly on identifying dance scenes from monuments, temples and tombs and translating and interpreting the inscriptions and texts that accompanied them.

Dances were performed “for magical purposes, rites of passage, to induce states ecstacy or trance, mime; as homage; honor entertainment and even for erotic purposes.” Dances were performed both inside and outside; by individuals pair but mostly by groups at both sacred and secular occasions.”

International Encyclopedia of Dance: A Project of Dance Perspectives

The ancient Egyptians used a vast array of musical instruments such as sistrums, harps, drums, flutes, cymbals, clappers, and tambourines that played a prominent role in melodic compositions of ancient Egyptians composers and musicians.

It was rare to find wind or stringed instrument players close to dancers in the same scene. However, it was noted that whenever musicians are depicted, dancers were not generally far away.

Second Intermediate Period, 17th Dynasty, ca. 1630-1550 BC. Painted plaster. From Dra’ Abu el-Naga’. Now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. AN1958.145