Art History

Ancient Egyptian dancers

People have always performed and danced as an expression of joy and entertainment and this was no different in the lives of ancient Egyptians. The two dancers depicted above would have danced for an elite audience or maybe even as part of a private show for the Pharaohs in their courts. They would have danced wearing either a short men’s skirt or completely naked with only a belt around their waist.

There is some evidence that suggest that women from wealthy Egyptian harems were trained in the art of dance and music as depicted in the image. Some of them would have been accomplished musicians playing various instruments, while others would have been dancers ready to please their royal audience. Trying to make heads or tails of the wall relief, I wonder what sort of dance they would have performed for their private onlookers ? It does suggest something exotic in nature. Could we even class these Egyptian private shows as erotic in nature ? Many were in fact religious or ritual in nature, while others were simply celebratory.

Egyptians from every social class were exposed to music and dance. However well brought up Egyptian women would never indulge in dancing activities in public. They would instead have their slaves entertain guests at private banquets. These slaves roles as dancers were to amuse and entertain their owner’s guests by offering them a very pleasant diversion.

Photo credit: The musician and dancers in the header image is from the Yorck project and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.


Robert Horvat is a Melbourne based blogger. He believes that the world is round and that art is one of our most important treasures. He has seen far too many classic films and believes coffee runs through his veins. As a student of history, he favours ancient and medieval history. Music pretty much rules his life and inspires his moods. Favourite artists include The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Garbage and Lana Del Rey.

5 comments on “Ancient Egyptian dancers

  1. Could they be dancing as part of a ritual? Dancing in or entreating, if you like, a bountiful year? Just past them on the right, those vases look full or overflowing. It’s interesting that the musicians are also female. Bounty and fertility? Just a thought.

    • Yes, it does suggest that it could be part of a ritual. The ‘full’ vases might be the key to the relief ?

      • I would be interesting to see the complete mural. Art textbooks tend to show just a segment.

      • In context with the figures in the top row, they look as if they have draped themselves with sheaves of wheat. I wonder if the two rows are connected? The supplicants/ congrgation in the row above and the celebrants/performers in the row below. I’m probably letting my imagination go too far. It’s a great mural.

  2. The painting was one from the Theban tomb of an official called Nebamun, 18th Dynasty. He was not royal, but would have had close connections to the king in order to be buried there. Unfortunately, the tomb’s precise location is unknown, but this and several other murals, including a birding scene, would have lined walls in a chapel above the burial chamber. The art is now in the British Museum. More about them is at the BM web site,

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