Essential part of Jewish life in Bible times. According to Eccles. 3:4, there is “a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (NASB). Dances were performed on both sacred and secular occasions, though the Hebrew mind would not likely have thought in these terms.
The OT employs 11 terms to describes the act of dance. This suggests something about the Hebrew interest in the subject. The basic Hebrew term translated “dance” means to twist or to whirl about in circular motions. Other terms for dance mean “to spring about,” “to jump,” “to leap,” “to skip,” One term seems to have been used of processional marches or dances at feasts and holidays.
The Greek terms for dance mean “row” or “ring.” The two terms are used five times in the NT (Matt 11:17; 14:6; Mark 6:22; Luke 7:32; 15:25). Dances were performed for different purposes. The mood behind the dance was one of celebration and praise.
Military victories were celebrated with dances. Women sang and danced, accompanied by musical instruments. Miriam and other Israelite women sang and danced in celebration of the victory at the Red Sea (Exod 15:20-21). Jephthah’s daughter danced before her victorious father (Judg 11:34) as did the Israelite women when David returned from having defeated the Philistines (1 Sam 18:6). Men also danced to celebrate military victory (1 Sam 30:16).
Dances were customary at weddings. On some occasions young ladies, dressed in their best clothing, danced in a bride-choosing ceremony (Judg 21). Dances were performed in honor of the bride (Song 6:13 NRSV, NIV).
Some dances were performed for the sheer entertainment of guests. Salome danced before the princes and politicians gathered to celebrate her father’s birthday (Matt 14:6; Mark 6:22). Children played games of “dance” (Job 21:11), often with the accompaniment of a musical instrument (Matt 11:17; Luke 7:32). The return of a long lost son was cause for celebration and dancing (Luke 15:25).
Religious celebration was most often the occasion for dancing. David danced before the ark as it was brought into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:14, 16; 1 Chron 15:29). The psalmist exhorted others to praise God with music and dancing (Psa 149:3; 150:4). Pagans also used the dance as a means of honoring their gods (1 Kings 18:26).
In summary, the dances of the Jewish people was similar to what we today call the folk dance. It was performed by both males and females, thought apparently not in mixed groups. Both groups and individual dances were performed.