The Iba-Dance and Heby-Dance

views updated

The Iba-Dance and Heby-Dance

Life and Death.

The iba -dance and the heby -dance are two different names for the same dance. Old and Middle Kingdom artists used the word iba in captions to scenes depicting it, while New Kingdom scribes used heby in the same context. Artists portrayed the iba -dance and the heby -dance in tombs, suggesting they had some meaning for the deceased in the next life. Yet they portrayed the dancers performing while people ate meals, a quintessential part of daily life on earth. During the Old Kingdom, the tomb scenes show the deceased eating, often with a spouse. New Kingdom scenes portray a banquet with many guests in addition to the deceased and close family members both eating and watching the dance. Thus it seems likely that the Egyptians watched iba- and heby-dances while eating on earth and also expected to see them again after death. Nevertheless, the cultic connections between the dance and ritual are so close it is unlikely that these dances are truly secular.


Women danced the iba and heby, usually for men or a couple in the Old and Middle Kingdoms and for a larger group of men and women in the New Kingdom. The characteristic steps included arms raised above the head and joined to form a diamond shape. In a second step, the dancers raised the right hand in greeting as the left hand and arm pointed straight down. At the same time, both heels were raised from the ground, so that the dancers were resting only on their toes. The next step included raising the left hand and arm until it was parallel with the ground and simultaneously raising the left foot above the ground with the sole of the foot parallel to the ground. In tombs outside the capital regions of Memphis and Thebes, the dances included more lively and athletic steps that appear quite acrobatic. The dancers formed a bridge by leaning backward until the hands and head reached the ground. In the New Kingdom, the dancers sometimes played the lute as they danced in a more lively manner.


The women performing this dance during the Old and Middle Kingdoms wore a short skirt that ended just above the knees. They sometimes wore a band of cloth that encircled the neck and crossed between the breasts and over the back. Sometimes the women wore a headdress of lotus flowers. This costume was certainly less modest than the typical Old Kingdom dress for women. Women of all classes normally wore tight-fitting long dresses with straps over the shoulders and a V-neck; the singers and clappers are distinguished from the dancers by their wearing of this more traditional clothing. The short skirt clearly allowed the dancers to move more freely than they would while wearing the typical street clothes. Some scholars have suggested that this costume indicates the dancers were foreigners. Though foreigners could be members of the dance troupe, there is no evidence to support the belief that foreigners or foreign dress dominated Egyptian dance.

In Procession.

In at least one case during the Old Kingdom, a tomb displays dancers doing the iba dance in a funeral procession rather than during a meal. The women dancing in the tomb of Akhethotep raise their arms to form a diamond shape with the hands apart. Perhaps this scene is a clue that the iba actually was a part of the tjeref funeral dance. The nature of the evidence makes it difficult to know exactly how these dances fit together.


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