Ostracon of a Dancer in an acrobatic position

An ostracon showing a topless dancer in an acrobatic position with elaborate hairstyle and hoop earrings in gymnastic backbend. This magnificently drawn sketch of a lady doing a back bend defies many of the conventions of Egyptian art.

Performances were held at festivals, banquets, in the temple, and at funerals, but could take place anywhere. The upper classes regularly employed musicians for entertainment at evening meals and for social gatherings. ​All of these dances, for whatever purpose, were thought to elevate the spirit of the dancer and of the audience of spectators or participants.​

Ostracon of a Dancer in an acrobatic position
Ostracon of a Dancer in an acrobatic position

The artistic quality of the design is exceptional and is erotically charged. Female dancers can be seen depicted not only on tomb walls but also on temple walls. The liveliness and quality of draughtsmanship of this semi-erotic sketch, demonstrate a high level of skill and certainly suggests that it was the drawing of a royal artisan working in the Valley of the Kings.

Dance in ancient Egypt

“Dance was an important part of religious and life-span events as well as a popular form of entertainment in ancient Egypt. Dance themes from prehistory, such as fertility, weapons, and funerals, intertwined into ancient Egyptian religious and secular dance themes, each with different purposes, performers, and movements.”

“Dance was the chief means of expression in Egyptian religious services, which emphasized life after death and a vehicle for perpetuating mysteries and teaching people about ancient myths. Mysteries and secret doctrines about the rise and fall of the Nile were communicated through symbolic dance-dramas.”

“As ancient Egyptian society became more complex, dance expanded beyond religious rites and communal participation to entertainment. In the New Kingdom the dancing became more refined, with trained dancers providing entertainment for their masters and guests. Servants, slaves, and pygmies often performed dance entertainment. As slaves came from various countries into Egypt, they melded their dance styles. Movement became more flowing in closed-type dances.”

History of Dance, by Gayle Kassing (#aff)

Papyrus was an expensive medium reserved for official documents, so that potsherds and flakes of limestone (ostraca) were normally used instead. The uses were disparate such as for contracts, receipts, letters, stories, writing exercises and even doodles provide an insight into daily life.

The ancient Egyptians drew on ostraca for a variety of reasons; for example, while planning work on tombs or as exercises. Ostraca are simple splinters of limestone or shards of pottery, on which the ancient Egyptians wrote or drew. This type of support was used because it was plentiful and of no material value, unlike papyrus, which was much more expensive.

New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, around 1200 BC. Limestone and paint. Provenance unknown, possibly Deir el-Medina, West Thebes, later Drovetti Collection, 1824. Now in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. C. 7052