This article discusses how dance forms have developed and spread through the ages and works in particular with the genre that we in Norway call regional dances. In contrast to much other research into dance history, it is the dances as movement patterns that I focus on, rather than their context. Therefore, I will also discuss methodological approaches suitable for such a focus. The conventional method is to study old sources in both writing and images and compare them with dance in the present, Film and video recordings of dance from the last hundred years or so can also be used to make hypotheses about connections. A less common approach, that I have used before, is to build on theories about diffusion processes and the spread of dance forms and dance elements (Bakka, Aksdal & Flem 1992, Bakka 2012). Finally, I present an approach that I believe is new in dance history, although Lisbet Torp did an ethnochoreological description of chain dances somewhat related (Torp 1990). It is the idea of the generative power of the simple basic elements that runs through many dances. By generative power or potential, I mean the property of an element to be able to “give birth” to new variants of itself. In the dances with which we work here, it is especially the couple turnings that provide the basis for the approach through the generative. I compare basic elements in dances that are similar to each other and try to show how it only takes a small change of one basic element for us to get the other. It is similar to what biologists call mutation. I imagine that a basic element that becomes popular and has generative power will develop new variants based on certain fundamental principles laid down in humans. I think it is processes of this kind that have created most of the variety, in the regional as well as in the round dances. We cannot know for sure when the development starts, or in what order the variants come into being, if we cannot date certain variants from other kinds of historical sources.
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