The Words Of Dance by Katherine Barber


Have you ever wondered about the words we use for dancing?
Let's start with "dance" itself. Where did it come from? Surprisingly, we don't really know for sure.
It showed up in English in the 1200s, borrowed from the French, who seem (along with other Romance languages) to have borrowed it from an Old High German word dansôn (to stretch out). The sense ‘to form a file or chain in dancing’ is thought to have arisen from this meaning of "stretching".
But people had danced in Anglo-Saxon England before the French arrived in 1066, despite severe moral disapproval from the church and even attempts to ban dancing. For one thing, dancing had been used in pre-Christian fertility rites. What's more, dancing was associated in the Bible with Salome, who had demanded John the Baptist's head on a platter. You can see how dancing got a bad rap.
- W​HY WE ARE FATED TO FALL OVER WHEN DANCING
Clerics notwithstanding, the Anglo-Saxons carried on dancing, their word for it being tumbian. Tumbian later acquired an -le ending (which in Old English indicated frequent repetition or intensity) and became "tumble". Is it not interesting that a word that started out meaning "dance" ended up meaning "fall over"?
This happened with the word "trip" as well, which originated in a Germanic word for a light, dainty dancing step. Only in English did “trip” also come to mean “stumble over one's feet”. What does this say about the innate English ability to dance, or lack thereof? Perhaps my tendency to fall over my feet in my ballet classes can be ascribed, not to any individual failing, but to an unavoidable genetic inheritance! 
If you're interested in travelling to see great dancing in beautiful places (no tripping, tumbling, or heads on platters, I promise), please check out my website at