A dance also refers to a specific form of this movement. Specific dances have names that are recognized, and the specifics of the dance may be formalized. Examples of specific dances or families of dances are waltz, jig and salsa. See List of dances for a full index list of specific dances and families of related dances.
From the sociological point of view, dance is usually considered to be a cultural rather than natural phenomenon. Dances may be accepted and/or adapted by other cultures, and for other purposes. For example, the social dances of one culture and time period might become the historical reenactment dances of another culture and time period.
There are numerous ways of classifying dances. Dances may be classified by their specific purpose, such as social dancing, performance dancing, or erotic dance. They may be classified according to function based on specific spheres of cultural activity: religion, art, sport, recreation. They may be classified by the number of participant, i.e. individually, as couples or in groups.
These classification are neither precise nor complete, and a dance may well be classified under several categories. For example, dance can be a form of therapy (choreotherapy) for some people, yet for others the same dance is simply a job.
Dancing can be done for the individual dancer's or for the dancers' own pleasure, or as pleasure for others i.e., performance.
Dance elements can be found in a number of sports, such as gymnastics, figure skating, synchronized swimming, and is often seamlessly blended with other types of art and sports, such as pantomime or gymnastics. The principal element of dance is the motion of the dancer's body. It can be more or less coordinated, slower or faster, but always purposeful.
Another important element of dance is rhythm. Although dance movement is often rhythmic, it is not always so. It usually requires the rhythm of music, even if only imaginary, produced by the dancers themselves. In some dance styles, the dancers produce music by stomping, clapping, ringing the bells attached to body or garments, or by tapping metal plates attached to the bottom of their shoes.
It is also said that dance is a form of nonverbal communication. In this sense, someone has said (bearing religious dance in mind) "Dance is the prayer of the feet".
Many folk and ethnic dances use steps and movements that imitate important everyday activities: agricultural, fishing, hunting, etc. However the purpose of a harvesting dance for example is not harvesting, rather, its a tale about harvesting or something similar. Some Indian dance styles use hand, face and eye movements to communicate meaning by the dancer.
Dance is found in every human culture. Dance scholar Alfred Gell has defined dance as "a stylized deformation of nondance mobility, just as poetry is a deformation or modulation of language, a deviation from the norm of expression that enhances expressiveness (Gell, Alfred. 'Style and Meaning in Umeda Dance' in: Spencer, Paul, ed. Society and the Dance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)."
A continuum of dance can be posited that stretches from the most extreme and solitary forms of non-technical, ritual dance (endurance/trance dancing) through a broad middle of folk dance (including everything from modern club dances to a medieval minuet), to extreme forms of performance dance such as neoclassical ballet or postmodern works employing decontextualized pedestrian movement.
Movement involving intricate step patterns unrelated to a form of expression, is sometimes referred to as dancing. Some examples: