Musical theater dancing is less of a particular style, and more of a description of dancing that is rooted in the diverse history of Broadway musicals. Relying heavily on a knowledge of ballet, tap, and jazz, musical theater dancers are, first and foremost, actors and place a high focus on musical interpretation. Partner dancing has always been intertwined in musical theater and is becoming more and more prevalent as ballroom dance begins to be the focus of more and more live stage productions.
Musical theater is believed to have begun in ancient Greece about 2,500 years ago. The Greeks staged comedies and tragedies that included music and dance, and performed their musicals in open-air amphitheaters. Later, Roman comedies also included song and dance routines performed with orchestra music. They used special effects to make their shows more exciting, a method that is still used in modern musicals! Then in Medieval times, traveling entertainers and performers sang songs and performed comedies.
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, churches used musical theater to set their services to religious chants. But things changed by the Renaissance period, when clowns would act out stories using song and dance, and masks and the use of backdrops to set the scene became popular. Then in the 1700s, opera, a type of musical poetry told through song, became popular in Britain, France and Germany. Operas were often both funny and romantic.
The first musical theater performance to come to America took place in 1735, before the United States was even technically a country. It was called Flora and was an opera from England. Opera continued to be performed in both America and Europe over the years, and is even still popular today!
After the United States became a nation, a new type of musical called burlesque became popular. These were mostly parodies, or imitations making fun of other plays or famous people. Burlesque shows were known for their fancy costumes and large dance numbers.
Musical Theater Today
Modern musical theater is thought to have begun in the mid to late 1800s as a result of a lot of big social changes. Transportation was improving, so it was easier for people to travel to get to plays. Many people had better jobs and were making better salaries, so they had more time to relax and money to spend on entertainment. And the invention of electricity led to street lights, which made it safer for people to go out at night. So the theater began to become much more popular, and modern musical theater was born.