To Be Like Gods: Dance in Ancient Maya Civilization

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The Maya of Mexico and Central America have performed ritual dances for more than two millennia. Dance is still an essential component of religious experience today, serving as a medium for communication with the supernatural. During the Late Classic period (AD 600-900), dance assumed additional importance in Maya royal courts through an association with feasting and gift exchange. These performances allowed rulers to forge political alliances and demonstrate their control of trade in luxury goods. The aesthetic values embodied in these performances were closely tied to Maya social structure, expressing notions of gender, rank, and status. Dance was thus not simply entertainment, but was fundamental to ancient Maya notions of social, religious, and political identity.

Using an innovative interdisciplinary approach, Matthew Looper examines several types of data relevant to ancient Maya dance, including hieroglyphic texts, pictorial images in diverse media, and architecture. A series of case studies illustrates the application of various analytical methodologies and offers interpretations of the form, meaning, and social significance of dance performance. Although the nuances of movement in Maya dances are impossible to recover, Looper demonstrates that a wealth of other data survives which allows a detailed consideration of many aspects of performance. To Be Like Gods thus provides the first comprehensive interpretation of the role of dance in ancient Maya society and also serves as a model for comparative research in the archaeology of performance.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Matthew G. Looper is a Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at California State University, Chico. His publications include Lightning Warrior: Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Definition and Interpretation of Ancient Maya Dance
Definitions of Dance
History of Maya Dance Studies
Aesthetics and Embodiment
Sources and Methods
Chapter 1: The Textual Record of Dance
Decipherment of Dance Texts
The Contexts of T516 "Dance" Expressions
Case Study 1: Dos Pilas
Case Study 2: Yaxchilán
Chapter 2: The Iconography of Dance
Identifying Dance Iconography
Case Study: Dance in the Bonampak Murals
Chapter 3: Dance Poses and Gestures
The Study of Body Positions in Maya Art
Dance Poses
Problematic Poses
From Pose to Gesture: Reconstructing Dance Movement from Figural Images
Case Study: Narrative and Avian Dances
Chapter 4: Dance on Classic Maya Ceramics by Matthew Looper, Dorie Reents-Budet, and Ronald L. Bishop
Case Study 1: Dances of the Maize God
Case Study 2: The Ik'-Style Corpus of Pictorial Cylinder Vessels
Chapter 5: The Architectural Settings of Dance
Case Study 1: Dance Platforms at Copán and the Yucatán
Case Study 2: Temple and Palace Dances in Campeche
Chapter 6: The Persistence of Maya Dance After European Contact
Characteristics of Colonial and Modern Maya Dance
Case Study: The Patzkar
Epilogue: Dance as an Image of Civilization
Dance as an Image of Divinity
Dance as an Image of Society
Dance as an Image of the State
Aesthetics as Image and Process
Dance in Ancient Maya History
Appendix: T516 "Dance" Expressions Ordered by Date
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