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Humanity/800 BC

Ancient Greek Concept of Paizō

"Paizō or Dance-Play, A Cultural Pedagogy"


"Paizō" is a term that means both play and dance. For the ancient Greeks dance was a form of play (paidia) that was integral to the education and socialization of citizens. In fact, the philosopher Plato held ritual choral dances, or choreia, to be the primary tool for moral education (paideia). The image above is a schematization of Plato's theory of play indicating the place of paizō in the larger project of cultural education and the moral development of Greek society. The concept of paizō provides an embodied and mimetic (see left) notion of play that suggests ancient continuities between play and education as well as moral development, a continuity markedly absent in contemporary society.

Dance and Mimesis

The Greek understanding of dance involves the concept of mimesis. Mimesis is difficult to define, but is commonly understood to mean "representation" or "imitation." Non-technical contemporary understandings of dance as an activity usually conceive of the dancer as engaged in some form of willed expression, and if the dance being performed is organized and informed by culture or artistic tradition the movements are thought to be representing or imitating proper forms. In the case of Greek dance, the dancers were thought to be directly imitating divine forms. The dancers, as all humans, were thought to be "paignion" - the playthings of the gods, and in the instance of the dance this relationship was almost literal. This picture of dancing, as a form of play, serves as an ancient source of various contemporary concerns about the dangers of play as an immersive and mesmerizing activity that can lead to irrational activities and confusion about reality.


In contrast to the function of Greek choreia and other ritual dances performed in public the contemporary practice of dancing in nightclubs and other commercial venues is considered to be wholly recreational. "Clubbing" is conceived as an activity of releasing energy, personal expression, and informal socialization.

Apollonian and Dionysian Aspects of Dance

In ancient Greek conceptions of ritual dance the dancers were thought to be imitating divine prototypes. Depending on the particular dance the dancers may be imitating Apollo and the Muses, which conduces the participants and audience to order of the soul as well as the general body politic; or Dionysus, which compels kinetic disorder and cathartic mania. This account of the mimetic function of dance-play, or paizō, provides an historical touchstone for reflecting on the recurring concern for the duality of play as both a potential organizing activity connected to enacting rational forms as well as an engrossing and chaotic activity that exceeds reason and resists rational control.


  1. Lonsdale, Steven. Dance and Ritual Play in Greek Religion.
  2. Choreia or Circle Dance
  3. Ancient Greek Dances
  4. History of Nightclubs