Cult Dances

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Cult Dances


Cult dances were essential to worshipping the gods in Egypt. Just as the gods required food, clothing, and incense, they expected dances to be performed periodically at festivals. These dances are less studied than the dances associated with the funeral, perhaps because the scenes of these dances are less available for study in publications, requiring further research. The Egyptians worshipped Hathor, Amun, and Osiris with dance, along with other gods.

Leaping Hathor Dance.

The goddess Hathor had many connections to dance and music. Scribes included inscriptions naming Hathor in depictions of a leaping dance and an acrobatic dance. In the leaping dance, a girl in a short skirt danced while swinging a mirror and a staff that she raised in her hand. Mirrors often depicted Hathor on the handle as an expression of her connection to female beauty. Two musicians surrounded her. They wore long dresses and manipulated the same two objects. A third girl dancing in a circle around the others also lifted a mirror and staff with another gesture. All the dancers wore the ponytail with disk hairstyle that associated the dancers with the sun-god Re. A very abbreviated text mentions Hathor, but it is too brief to allow translation.

Acrobatic Hathor Dance.

In the tomb of Ankhmahor from Dynasty Six, artists depicted five women performing a distinctive acrobatic step. They raised one leg at a steep angle, while they leaned far back, dangling their ponytail with the disk weight on to the ground. They balanced on one foot, flat on the ground. They wore a short skirt with a band of cloth descending from the belt to below the hem and anklets. The accompanying inscription mentions Hathor, but is too abbreviated to translate. The artists included singers who clapped and kept time for the dancers. In New Kingdom representations of this dance, the singers held the menat, a percussion instrument also associated with Hathor.

Other Cult Dances.

Blocks from a chapel built by Hatshepsut (1478–1458 b.c.e.) at the Karnak Temple depict dancers in a procession during the Feast of the Valley and the Feast of Opet. These two festivals were the god Amun's main annual festivals. The Feast of the Valley included a procession between the god's home in Karnak and the temples of deceased kings across the Nile river. The Opet Festival included a procession from Karnak to Luxor, the temple that represented the god's harem. The dancers in both festival processions performed an acrobatic dance. Its major movement was the bridge where the dancers leaned back until their arms supported them. Characteristically for this dance, their hair surrounded their upper bodies. The women wore only long skirts and their hair was loose. The musicians played the sistrum and menat, two different kinds of ritual rattles. Both the sistrum and menat link the dance to Hathor, whose image was often included on these instruments.


Emma Brunner-Traut, Der Tanz in alten Ägyptischen nach bildlichen und inschriflichen Zeugnissen (Glückstadt, Germany: J. J. Augustin, 1938).

see also Music: Musical Deities